This week, I am listing my top 20 favorite best books — note that if a series is part of a single story, it will be included together. I keep a track of every book I read on My Goodreads List (that link has the list of every book I read). As of now, 210 books are listed in there, but I started the account mid-2014. There were many other books I read throughout my school days that I simply cannot recall now 10-15 years later. I add them as I recall them.
I was always a heavy reader. There was a short 3-year window in College I regret now where I stopped reading books for fun as I had many other things to read for my classes & spent my free time playing games nonstop. I’m back to my old reading habit now since mid-2014.
Overall, I tend to prefer fiction over non-fiction. In fact, 90% of books I read for fun are fiction, as you will see below. Strength of the plot matters the most to me first and then how it is articulated second. Genres I prefer: police detective thrillers, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, action, adventure, drama, some historical.
There were very few specific genres that I avoided. One being Shakespeare — this man is probably the single most read author ever, but I simply never enjoyed his plays. I recall that every time my English teacher would mention we are reading a new Shakespeare book, I would groan. I was willing to read 5 ANY other books from almost ANY genre from ANY century in place of 1 single Shakespeare play. That was how much I despised reading Shakespeare (my opinion may change now a decade later as opposed to when I was 15). Other genres I generally avoided were those related to horror, poetry, romance, self-help books, memoirs, religious books, business, health, etc. There were a few exceptions when it was required reading for school.
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Last updated: August 26, 2015
Now for the main part of the blog post.. What are the best books I have read thus far? What are the most inspiring and memorable books? I’m starting off with 20 books, but in the future I will bring it up to 25. I will update this list once a year (and make it clear when I do).
Also, another disclaimer I always mention. You will see ratings below that start off at 9.5. No book ever will get 10/10 rating from me — in fact, no book or movie or ANYTHING gets perfect rating from me ever in any circumstance whatsoever because that means the book is absolutely perfect. Nothing is ever perfect & there is ALWAYS room for improvement!
1. The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary, One Vol. Edition – J.R.R. Tolkien
No fiction list (or any book list for that matter!) is complete without a mention of Lord of the Rings (LOTR) series with The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. JRR Tolkien wrote this masterpiece of 3 books over a period of 12 years. It was truly an exhilarating read when I flipped through it in Middle School (probably 7th grade). It took me about 6 months to read through all 3 books. LOTR series itself is listed at 481,103 words. If that sounds like too many pages, just wait till #2 on this list!
Overall, it is the best series I have ever read not just based on the plot or the writing style, but also the characters that Tolkien introduces us to (characters we bond with). These include Aragorn — man destined to be king of the realm of men, Legolas — one of the best archers ever that happens to be an elf prince, Gimli — the dwarf comedian with an axe that could rip through hordes of orcs, Frodo/Sam — inspiring hobbit heroes that were under-appreciated until the end, Gandalf — wise magnificent wizard that everyone looked up to, Sauron — the Dark Lord, and many other characters I won’t get into. MUST-READ! 9.75/10
2. Song of Ice & Fire (Game of Thrones) 5-Book Boxed Set – George R.R. Martin
I just recently finished reading this entire series. George Martin began writing the series in 1991, and in the 24 years, he has written 1,770,000 words throughout the 5 books. Book 6 is expected to release next year. I can’t say enough about how great and deep the plot has been. There are certain details and maybe a few chapters I feel as if they were unnecessary, but you get the sense that Martin gets engrossed while writing. I can’t dock points off for that because he is one of the best writers that I have ever come across with spectacular imagination.
Overall, the series itself I cannot praise enough. The number of primary characters is simply staggering and the writing style is different than most writers due to the number of characters — I have a feeling that might push some potential readers away. Still, it is a series you have to read (especially if you’re a Game of Thrones fan! Show skips over many great plot twists). MUST-READ! 9.75/10
3. Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7) – J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter series might very well be the most famous book(s) on this entire list. I read the first book in 3rd grade (1999) when my class teacher read it to the rest of us once a week for 2 hours. I liked the book so much that I borrowed the book from library and speed-read through it ahead of the class — then I threw spoilers out there when my teacher was going to read it (I don’t think she liked me after that, LOL!). This might be the only series on this list that both 10 year olds and 70 year olds would both enjoy. The other books on this list are targeted for older teenagers and adults.
Harry Potter was a person you always cheered for along with his friends Ron, Hermione, and other friends of his. You cheered against people like He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named that people were scared to name… you know what? Screw it. VOLDEMORT, VOLDEMORT, VOLDEMORT. Have some guts, people! VOLDEMORT. When a new Harry Potter book was out, I could not put it down until I finished it. The beginning was excitement and closer I got to the end, I became conflicted. I wanted to read the ending, but I also knew the book would be over (Ahh, damn it!). No re-reads would ever have the same excitement because I would know the entire story already. Only the first reading through it truly matters! Of course, the want to read it would win over the disappointment of the book being over! MUST-READ! 9.75/10
4.The Complete Sherlock Holmes (2 Volumes) – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The greatest detective of the ages. The great Sherlock could just look around and use masterful deductive skills to get directly to the bottom of a mystery. His assistant Dr. Watson, who had worked with Mr Holmes for many years, would be awestruck trying to figure out what just happened (best part would be his reaction when Sherlock would explain at the end of the case).
I first read this in 7th grade for school summer reading, and didn’t think much of it then. I read it again last year in 2014, and I was completely blown away by it on my 2nd read-through. It’s ironic that when you’re reading something for fun, you appreciate it more & understand it much better than when you’re reading it expecting an exam when you get back to school. I guess it’s the stress of thinking to yourself “Oh, I must remember this detail and that detail!” and over-thinking things rather than just reading it.
Truly spectacular series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was a masterful story-teller in his own right. MUST-READ! 9.75/10
5. The Day of the Jackal – Frederick Forsyth
Day of the Jackal is a famous book that is based on a true story. Charles de Gaulle was the President of France in 1950’s and 1960’s. Some people absolutely hated him because they felt he ran a tyranny in France, especially a French terrorist organization called OAS. They vowed to kill de Gaulle by any means necessary. They attempted to kill him many times (perhaps as many as 10-15 times), but failed every time. Due to that, President de Gaulle was the most tightly guarded person on Earth up to and through the 1960’s. Nobody had more and better-trained guards than de Gaulle, not even the Soviet Premier or President John F Kennedy. On de Gaulle’s security force, they had many sharpshooters, soldiers, snipers, police detectives, everything you can think of – almost an army just to protect him. It is said that de Gaulle’s camp studied how JFK was protected & expressed (before JFK got shot) that he was not well-protected by the Secret Service — of course, since JFK got shot, the US secret service changed up how they protect the president to the point that he is better guarded now than even de Gaulle ever was. Up to this point, everything I typed is historical record that truly took place.
As for the fiction part of the book, the OAS failed so many times that they hired one of the top assassins to kill de Gaulle. The way writer Forsyth tells the story is truly spectacular, and the plot is very well-articulated into the mind of an assassin. Initially, the book was a failure because no printing company wanted to give him a chance. Finally, a printing company gave him just 1 shot with only 8,000 prints. Every single book sold out so fast that they had to print more & each printing kept getting sold out every time. No media reviewed it, but quickly, it became one of the most sold books in the world after given just 1 shot. Only after that was the media all over it. MUST-READ! 9.75/10
6.The Charm School – Nelson DeMille
Charm School is a fictional story that takes place in the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. An US air attache (essentially a spy) that works for the US embassy in Moscow gets a phone-call from an American college student on vacation in USSR saying that he met a Vietnam War air-force pilot that had crashed behind enemy lines in Vietcong. The Soviets get their hands on them, and they all get transported to a camp throughout Soviet Union to train their own soldiers to infiltrate the USA. Within a hour of the phone-call, the KGB starts up a hunt to kill the student before he meets with the US air attache. The air attache, alongside his CIA boss (a super-spook), have political immunity, but nothing stops them from having an “accident.”
This book has it all. Spy, detective, action, adventure, some historical information, etc. Author Nelson Demille actually went to Moscow during the Cold War in 1980’s to research the locations he was writing about to make the setting realistic. There was actually suspicions of the Soviet doing this by buying POWs during the Vietnam War, but nobody could prove it. MUST-READ! 9.5/10
7. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R Tolkien actually wrote this before the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy and serves as a prequel. This book takes place in the same world, and is more adventure-based than the massive epic that was LOTR. There are fewer characters and not as much background necessary to explain that LOTR required.
Overall, this book is not as good as LOTR, but it is still a must-read! The journey and some of the things that led up to LOTR are explained here. We learn how Bilbo Baggins gets his hands onto the ring of Dark Lord Sauron in this novel, and then he passes it later onto his nephew Frodo Baggins in LOTR. MUST-READ! 9.5/10
8. Contact – Carl Sagan
Astrophysicist Carl Sagan was ahead of his time, and he knew exactly how to communicate complex scientific concepts into simple terms that anyone could understand. Contact was his most famous book that was later turned into a movie starring Jodie Foster & Matthew McConaughey. It’s a powerful book that was portrayed magnificently into the movie.
SETI was built to search for extraterrestrial signals in the Milky Way galaxy. If we found a signal, how would we react? What would the world think? Sagan shows different reactions from different groups of people from different parts of the world. Some were praying, some thought it was the end of the world, some were indifferent, some embraced it, some fought it through terrorist acts. Every spectrum of reaction is expressed. Scientists, politicians, engineers, people of different backgrounds, religions, race, gender, class, ethnicity all unite to decipher and build a massive machine that was mentioned in the alien message. Sagan brought into play actual physics concepts to help readers understand everything that was happening.
This book was very inspirational to me in understanding where we stand in the cosmos. We have much to learn as a species and many more milestones to reach both technologically, culturally, and individually. MUST-READ! 9.5/10
9.Ender’s Game (The Ender Quintet) – Orson Scott Card
Ender’s Game is truly a great book. I read it in 7th grade but I still remember it to this day (I think my 7th grade English teacher Mrs LaMarca recommended it). I blazed through the book and simply couldn’t put it down. It combines sci-fi with military tactics for space warfare from the perspective of a genius named Ender.
It’s a powerful story that you go through expecting everything to be a simulated game from Ender’s perspective. The kicker is that everything is not as it seems. I will leave it at that. The ending is very powerful and stunning. It’s a story that draws you into a world much like ours but into the future. I read the entire series of 4 books that starts with Ender’s Game. Quick read targeted for teenagers, but story is so deep that anyone would enjoy. MUST-READ! 9.5/10
10. Jurassic Park: A Novel – Michael Crichton
I first read this book in 4th grade many years ago and can barely remember all the details. All I remember is the book goes into many more details that simply were not covered in the movie. Most people have seen the movie already, but the idea is scientists extracted dinosaur DNA from a long-dead mosquito in hardened honey sap (mosquito had sucked blood from a dinosaur before getting preserved in the honey sap). That DNA is used to bring back dinosaurs in a lab through genetic engineering.
Crichton goes into many issues related to the dangers of cloning. He explores the ethics, morals, scientific, and philosophical implications. MUST-READ! 9/10
11. The Lincoln Lawyer (A Lincoln Lawyer Novel) – Michael Connelly
Mickey Haller is a lawyer that works out of his car, an Oldsmobile Lincoln. That was essentially his private office on wheels. This was a great story of a lawyer taking a case where the client pleads innocence against some pretty hefty charges. Haller is convinced the kid (or young adult) is innocent, but the evidence is stacked against him. Haller is in very tough situation trying to figure out how the defend Louis. It initially was an ethics issue, and Haller begins to suspect he was wrong all along.
Connelly does an awesome job building the whole case up, and just a great job bringing the entire case crumbling down in front of Mickey Haller, who is in danger of risking not only his career but his life. MUST-READ! 9/10
12. The Great Train Robbery – Michael Crichton
Another Michael Crichton book that takes a slightly different approach than most of his other books. Most of his other books use actual scientific issues and considers some moral implications. This one in instilled in detective adventure and almost like a chess match between a clever federal detective and a sly mastermind thief involved in putting together a complex plot to rob a train. The thief seems to always be a few steps ahead no matter what as he goes through with his very complex ploy.
The writing-style is definitely different here than Crichton’s typical writing style. Fun read though that I blazed through. MUST-READ! 9/10
13. Night (Night) – Elie Wiesel
This was a difficult book to read. Difficult not in reading difficulty but the plot line itself. Very powerful images of the Holocaust are drawn that make you question everything about what it means to be human. This book gets graphic into the atrocities committed by the Nazis in World War 2. Elie Wiesel was documented in one of these extermination camps called Auschwitz (moved to another camp later on), where he lost his entire family, friends, and people he knew. I’m not a very emotional and never was so if I say this impacted me, this must have been very powerful.
Young Elie Wiesel goes in with hope in people and god. As he saw the massacres and killings, Elie still clings on hoping that god will save them. One by one, people get savagely slaughtered, gassed, and burned in ovens. Eventually, Elie loses all hope in humanity and faith in god, and is lost. The only thing left to save him was his instinct of survival. One scene I recall is Elie’s dad being beat into pulp by a Nazi officer for simply requesting water. Elie was so broken that he couldn’t do anything to help his dad. He wakes up in the morning only to find out they took his dad away to the ovens for cremation. When the first American tank rolled in and freed them from the Nazis, Elie had no tears or joy or anything left emotionally. It took Elie a decade after he got out of Auschwitz to even have words to express the pain, anguish, and the emotions he felt.
This books violently rips into perspective why we can’t be bystanders when we see injustice. We simply cannot allow evil to triumph. The day we forget that is the day we all lose. We lose not just our dignity but hope for a better tomorrow. MUST-READ! 9/10
14. The Hunger Games (Book 1) – Suzanne Collins
This is yet another book where the movies are simply not as good as the books. This series is one of the highest reviewed books out there. I read through the first book in essentially 10 days. For some reason, I haven’t read the 2nd or the third ones in this critically acclaimed novel yet (I have had them on my cellphone too for past year).
Katniss Everdean, her mother and her sister live in a fictional nation of Panem in a future tyrannical country. It is divided into 12 districts. Ever year, a tournament called Hunger Games takes place where contestants can either volunteer or be put into a lottery where people are chosen from for a tournament to the death. Only one contestant can win; the rest of them die. Katniss’ little sister is nominated, but Katniss won’t allow it. She volunteers in place of her sister. What ensues is breath-taking. MUST-READ! 9/10
15. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
OFOCN was well-articulated from start to finish. The time period it takes place in was truly scary for mental hospital patients as they were mistreated in inhumane ways by nurses & doctors. Experiments were conducted where they would drill into the patients’ skulls and remove pieces (lobotomy). Different drugs were tested without permission from the families. Then Randle McMurphy comes into the story, and he changes things by introducing the patients to laughter, joy, interesting conversations, freedom, change.
Basically McMurphy shows us the power of life by showing us the light at the end of the tunnel and hope. He stands up against the head nurse, who we only know as Nurse Ratched, that was mistreating patients & represented everything that was wrong with the place. He changed all the patients in the place for the better to the point that you felt the ones who were supposed to oversee the patients were patients themselves, and the patients were the overseers (switched places). In the end, McMurphy may have lost physically but realistically & metaphorically he won. McMurphy won our hearts and minds.
The movie also lived up fully to everything the book did thanks to Jack Nicholson’s brilliant acting along with all the great cast. Book is highly recommended. MUST-READ! 9/10
16. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Kite Runner is a book unlike all the other ones on this list. It’s about growing up, and facing & overcoming the challenges in life. Initial part of this book takes place in Afghanistan in the 1970’s before the Taliban took over.
Amir was son of a rich man, and Hassan was the son of a servant of Amir’s father. Amir and Hassan became best friends, and they flew kites together. One day, Amir gets attacked by a kid named Assef for being friends with Hassan, who was of much lower class. Amir was small and weak for his age, but Hassan steps in to protect his best friend & forced Assef to flee. In a future encounter, Hassan gets trapped by Assef and Assef beats him up badly. Amir sees it all, but he doesn’t step in or get help and flees like a coward. Hassan forgives Amir as he always does, but Amir feels guilty. That guilt leads him down a darker path that forces Hassan & his father to leave Afghanistan altogether. Amir regrets that moment for the rest of his life but later on redeems himself completely.
Very powerful story of friendship, compassion, love, redemption, loyalty to the end, hope, inspiration. The story has moments that make you laugh, cry, and think. MUST-READ! 9/10
17. Word of Honor – Nelson DeMille
This goes deeply into a massacre of innocents during the Vietnam War and the raping one US Army unit did during a situation, which I won’t spoil. The main character Benjamin was present and knows details of it. The US Army starts up a court-martial against members of his old unit, and Benjamin’s unit has to live through it all over again with Ben getting called for being a culprit that let it happen. The crew had made a vow never to talk about what had happened in the very stressed situation in the middle of a war. Ben has to risk his old friendships for the sake of the truth. As the case progresses, we see all of Benjamin’s strengths and flaws unravel as a human. Twists and turns lead us deeper and deeper into the story. Ben’s true honor as a friend, leader, husband, father, and as a human-being gets put to the test.
Author Nelson Demille was an actual Vietnam War veteran – US Army Lieutenant – so he was there first hand as the fighting took place. This truly was an amazing book that was very hard to put down! MUST-READ! 9/10
18. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Truly mesmerizing book that I read back in 10th grade English class. You see the story through the eyes of a little innocent girl Scout, who was very observant and didn’t miss anything. She explains the various people of the town and her family – brother Jem and father Atticus (a lawyer). It takes place in state of Alabama during the height of the great depression of the 1930’s when poverty was rampant. The white-black division/segregation was tearing the country apart in this time in question.
A white woman accusing a black man of rape was instant death for the black man, often without a trial. That very same thing happens here with a white woman Mayella accusing a black man Tom, and the judge asks Atticus to represent Tom. Atticus – an honorable man of high integrity – agrees to take the case. Many of the town’s people were enraged to see Atticus be willing to defend a black guy. The story unfolds as we go through the case. MUST-READ! 9/10
19. The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton
This was one of my favorite books growing up, and it was a book I truly enjoyed reading for class. My teacher had told everyone not to read ahead, but I simply couldn’t put it down. I remember we were supposed to read it & analyse over a period of 2 months, and I completely finished reading it in 4-5 days. That was how great it was.
This book reminds me in some ways of Kite Runner, which I read years after The Outsiders. There is a sense of bonding, loyalty, and innocence. This book was controversial because in some ways, it makes you feel compassion for gang-members, who happen to be kids. People didn’t like that, but I think they missed the bigger picture. This book is not about supporting gang violence and has much bigger message. It shows that we’re all human with flaws and often, desperate situations change who we are. Even if you took out the gang aspect, the kids were trying to find themselves with nobody to guide them so they end up down a dark path. There is much more depth and details at play that I won’t get into here.
I was debating whether to put it up as one of my favorite books, but I think I have to put it up here simply on the sentimental value and how much it meant to me growing up. Hinton did a great job in the writing of this book. MUST-READ! 9/10
20. The Lion’s Game – Nelson DeMille
Another great thriller that takes place around 9/11 time-frame from the perspective of a New York City cop John Corey, who works for the Anti-Terrorist Task Force. They are expected to receive a highly-wanted Libyan terrorist who says he is defecting. Unfortunately, things all go wrong as his true intention all along was to wreck havoc & kill people. Corey and other ATTF members go on a wild chase to take him down with the FBI, CIA & other cops working together. It’s a fun read by Nelson DeMille.
Corey is a witty character who makes you laugh even when he is in a very stressful situation. Funniest parts are especially when he gets into ego matches with his bosses. He specifically gets into it with a CIA spook named Ted, who hates Corey (and Corey hates him). The action itself is top-notch from beginning to end to the point that you can’t put it down. MUST-READ! 9/10
Raise the Titanic! – This is one of my favorite books and was written by Clive Cussler. Combines adventure with action from the perspective of an adventurer named Dirk Pitt. MUST-READ! 9/10
Up Country – Great story that takes us to Vietnam and we recollect the memories of a veteran US Army soldier. MUST-READ! 9/10
Artemis Fowl series – Adventure series that takes place from the perspective of a genius mastermind kid who is always steps ahead of his opponents. During the day, he is a pleasant young fellow, but at night, he becomes a brilliant sly thief. Series is targeted more for teenagers, but I think even adults would enjoy it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! 8.5/10
Angels & Demons: A Novel – Some people consider this a controversial novel, and it’s banned in some places. Dan Brown explores some controversies around Christianity and uses his imagination to build upon it further. I guess that made some people outraged over what they deem ‘blasphemy’. I thought it was a very good book overall that makes you think; I liked Brown’s writing style, and his approach of exploring issues. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! 8.5/10
There are many other books that I can’t get into them all here as I’m already past 4,500 word count. Feel free to recommend books you enjoyed! I will check it out for sure.
Keep thinking, dreaming, learning, and reading! For life.
Hope. Inspire. Dream. Live.