This months TOP post was a joy to write, despite the fact that it was very hard not to write a post the size of a book (many adored reads failed to make the cut, but seriously I would have gone on forever), so you can be assured that these truly are my absolute favourites - so much so that I probably couldn't even rank them amongst themselves. I'm a avid reader and always have been so many of these have been favourites for years - the types of books you can read over an over again and never get bored of...
Sashenka by Simon Sebag Montefiore Opening in St. Petersburg in the midst of World War One, Sashenka is the gripping and moving tale of a young woman whose radical ideals and Bolshevik politics are a stark contrast to her aristocratic upbringing in Tsarist Russia. Writing in the style of Tolstoy and Pasternak (tragic heroines, war, betrayal, and bloodshed galore), Montefiore's background as a historian allows him to provide ultimate attention to detail and rich, vivid descriptions which truly bring to life the chill of early C20th Russia. This is the book I reach for when the first bite of winter arrives...
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann This cult classic is an easy read but speaks volumes of the perception and position of women in modern society. To some this may be 'trash fiction' feat. enough pills, sex, and alcohol to fuel a 90's rave but I personally found this a bold, moving, and most definitely feminist book - especially when viewed in context of it being written in the 1960's. The ending is certain to leave you deep in thought for days.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott Probably my oldest favourite, I doubt that I need to say much for this American classic - if you haven't read it then bets are you sobbed over the 1994 movie starring Winona Ryder and Christian Bale on many an occasion. Rife with religious and political messages more applicable to C19th America than 2014, this is essentially a beautiful portrayal of character, femininity, and family life in Civil War Massachusetts.
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber A sensational Victorian novel that wouldn't look out of place amongst your Dickens' (despite being written over 150 years later), this hefty tome tells the story of Sugar, a prostitute-turned-mistress to a respected (and married) London businessman. Unlike Dickens' Faber neglects to leave out the intricate, and often gory details of life in Victorian London - the phrase 'brings to life' is nowhere better placed. Beautifully and cleverly written (although not 100% historical accurate), this novel is a superb portrayal of character and of the female role in C19th Britain.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte Another classic (and probably very stereotypical pick) that I doubt needs much description. I love this novel not just for its passionate love story, twisting plot, and contemporary portrayal of Victorian England, but most for the way in which Bronte presents such vivid imagery of C19th Yorkshire, moors and all.
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray The story of social climber Becky Sharp - an anti-heroine if ever there was one - is one of both satire and realism, and portrays one of literature greatest female protagonists at a time when men very much dominated society. In my opinion the epitome of 'the great Victorian novel' (the 2004 film adaption is rather good as well).
The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman I remember first reading this when I was still in primary school and (whilst not understanding any of the deep, allegorical messages for which this novel is most well-known) setting it down distraught that daemons weren't real. I think this is the most imaginatively written book that I have ever read - the world Pullman creates is so cleverly similar to ours that it is relatable, but wrought with elements of fantasy that appeal to the imaginative reader - witches, daemons, and talking bears.
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory In my early teens I was absolutely obsessed with the Tudors and having exhausted all teen fiction set in the Tudor era, sneaked this from my mum's bookshelf and read it by torchlight under my duvet. The tale of Mary Boleyn (the lesser known sister of Anne, doomed second wife of Henry VIII) is beautifully told with vivid description and attention to historical detail - one of Gregory's finer works.
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin The story of a young mother who becomes disturbed by the robot-like personalities of the women in her new and (supposedly) idyllic hometown. Another classic which is (sadly) better known for its Hollywood adaptation - this story is one of both comedy and horror, wrought with satire and strong underlying messages re. the post-feminism debate.
1984 by George Orwell A dystopian novel before dystopian novels were cool, this is one of those stories which sticks with you long after setting down the book, and will have you pondering the meaning and messages behind its plot even after a re-read. This is the kind of book that's so well-known, so often discussed, and so often referred to that before reading you could assume it won't live up to the hype (an assumption that won't live beyond the first page).
The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox A book which hasn't earned the hype it's deserved - if you're a fan of historical fiction, detective novels, thrillers, and darn good prose, then order a copy now. An intelligently written revenge mystery with elements of Dickens, Collins, and Conan-Doyle, this is another novel you could easily imagine having been written in the C19th.
Let me know what your favourite books are in the comments below, and if you have any suggestions for future TOP posts I'd love to hear them!