24 (Modern) Books Everyone Should Read at Least Once

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Books. They make the world go round. And there’s so much I love about a great read. Nothing beats curling up on a rainy weekend with a cup of tea and a good book.

I’ve seen endless lists of ‘books you need to read in this lifetime’ and while they always included the standard classics such as Austen and Dickens, I wanted to take a more modern approach.

This list is a collection from my own shelves. Of some of my favourite reads. And some of the most important. How many have you read?

1. The Braid by Laetitia Colombani

Genre: Literary fiction

I read The Braid for one of my book clubs and was totally taken aback by how much I loved it. The story follows three different women and their vastly different life struggles. It’s a beautiful telling of connection and explores different cultures, backgrounds, and circumstances.

There’s such a fierce intensity to this book despite it being a really short read which captures these women and their determination to persevere against the odds.

2. A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon

Genre: Romance

I love, love, love this heartwarming story about new beginnings and living life to the fullest. Moving into a small apartment and starting life over, Gina Bellamy realizes she not only has too many things, but they don’t bring her joy in life.

And so she makes herself a promise; she will only keep 100 things that make her happy and the rest can go.

3. Step on a Crack by James Patterson

Genre: Thriller

I always enjoy a good James Patterson, and the first in the Michael Bennett series is one to remember. At St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, the rich and famous of America have gathered for a funeral.

It all goes wrong when the cathedral is attacked and hostages are taken – the ex-President among them. Michael Bennet, the detective in charge of the case, must somehow work out who’s behind the attack and find a way to get everyone home safe.

4. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini

Genre: Literary fiction

I absolutely love this book. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time, giving a stark insight into the life of Afghan women, the domestic abuse and violence that isn’t uncommon and how political turmoil affects their lives.

The story follows first Miriam and then later Laila, showing the contrast between circumstance and a loving family but later the cruel hand of fate. It’s a story of survival that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.

5. Some Call It Love by Sarah Peis

Genre: Romantic comedy

Willa Montgomery is hilarious. Her life is all over the place, and even when things can’t get worse, they somehow do. Juggling her multiple jobs, her dad who can’t stay out of trouble, while also trying to pay the rent, Willa finds herself working for the irresistibly hot Jameson Drake, owner of Drake’s Garage.

I’ve read this book at least four or five times because it’s my go-to heartwarming, feelgood read. And no matter how many times I re-read it, it always makes me laugh out loud.

6. Flawed by Cecilia Ahern

Genre: YA

I had no idea what to expect from this book, and when I started reading it I just couldn’t put it down. This book literally gives me chills – in a world where perfection is everything, a single mistake could have you branded as Flawed. What I loved most about this read was how close to reality it felt.

The Flawed live a different life governed by a different set of rules and Celestine may be about to make the biggest mistake of her life.

7. Why I’m No Longer Talking About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Genre: Non-Fiction

This a must-read for every white person out there. In light of the BLM protests this year, there’s simply no excuse. And while a lot of the recommended BLM reads focus on American Society, this one uses British examples to demonstrate the racial inequality still present in the UK.

I learned a lot from this book, and will definitely be going back to re-read and re-learn the lessons it has to offer.

8. Atonement by Ian McEwan

Genre: Historical (WWII)

This story is heartbreaking. And it’s one of those books that I almost don’t like because of how devastating it is. The first half is set at an English country house in 1935 where young Briony has big dreams and little understanding of the complexities of the lives going on around her.

The second half of the book focuses on the naïve accusations of Briony’s younger self and shows how devastating they’ve been. Amidst the turmoil of Dunkirk, McEwan captures the true essence of WWII and how it impacted lives.

9. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Genre: Thriller

The first in the Millenium Trilogy, I would highly recommend reading all three of the original books. And if you enjoy this one, you’ll love the other two even more. 

Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist, hires the ruthlessly talented computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander, to help solve the mystery of a woman who went missing 40 years ago.

10. Inventing Joy by Joy Mongano

Genre: Memoir

I can’t even remember what made me want to read this book but it’s wonderful. Joy Mangano tells her story of how she became one of America’s most celebrated female inventors. But what I loved most was how Joy would share which moments in her life were pivotal and the lessons she’s learned from them.

It’s a truly inspiring story of a single mum and how she builds the life she wants.

11. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Genre: Literary fiction

In a remote mountain village, the Akha people mould their lives around the seasons and farming tea. Li-yan craves more than this traditionalist life she knows. As one of the few educated girls in her village, a life of possibility is a temptation too great to ignore.

This is a beautiful story of culture, tradition, and human endurance told with reverence. I love the insight it gives you into traditional Chinese culture and how it brings the tea production industry to life.

12. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling

Genre: YA

This wouldn’t be a must-read list without Harry Potter. And I’ve only listed the first one when actually, you should read the whole series. I will never forget the way it felt to read these books for the first time.

If you’re un familiar with the story, the first book follows Harry in his first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he discovers a powerful object is being hidden and he must do what he can to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

13. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Genre: Historical (Japan, WWII)

This is a beautiful, epic novel set in Japan during and after WWII. The story follows a peasant girl who is sold as a servant to a renowned geisha house where she eventually learns the arts of geisha, including how to seduce the most powerful men.

I love this book. It’s ability to completely transport you to another time and place is amazing. It dives into Japanese culture and explores love, betrayal, and a completely different way of life.

14. The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Genre: Romantic comedy

I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did. In all honesty, the blurb didn’t really sound that appealing but I loved it. The characters are 100% what make it and I’m so glad I took a chance on this one. Tiff is just trying to be herself but she’s hilarious and Leon is the sweetest guy around.

A brilliantly heartwarming read if you need one.

15. The Colour Purple by Alice Walker

Genre: Literary fiction

There is so much I love about this book, specifically the way in which it uses Black dialect to tell Celie’s story. It’s a stunning read, following Celie through life as she is separated from her beloved sister, Nettie, and trapped in an ugly marriage where she tries to make the best of things. Until she meets Shug Avery who shows her how to embrace her own spirit and live life to the fullest.

It’s a brutal read, filled with stark honesty which doesn’t shy away from the realities of life. Yet, Walker is able to celebrate life, faith, forgiveness and hope.

16. Florida Straits by Laurence Shames

Genre: Comedy

Joey wants to prove himself, so he goes to Key West to become a gangster. Except there’s not really space for him and things don’t really go according to plan.

This is the perfect light-hearted read which I absolutely loved. It’s got gangsters, a high-stake heist, Cubans, Colombians, and the most unlikely of heroes.

17. Sovereign by CJ Sansom

Genre: Historical (Tudor) mystery

This is the third book in the Shardlake series and the first one I ever read – the whole series is brilliant but this one is particularly good.

Matthew Shardlake is a hunchbacked lawyer during the reign of King Henry VIII. When a glazier is murdered, Shardlake discovers important documents that question the king’s right to the throne. These books are brilliant and captivating, sucking you into another time; it’s basically a crime thriller set in the past.

18. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Genre: Literary fiction

When a cargo ship sinks in the Pacific Ocean, the only survivors are a hyena, a zebra with a broken leg, a female orangutan, a Royal Bengal tiger and a 16-year-old boy named Pi. Trapped in a single lifeboat, it’s a battle for survival.

Brilliantly original, I guarantee you’ll never read anything else like it.

19. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Genre: Literary fiction

Following the personal journeys of 12 different characters, this book captures the essence of Black womanhood in Great Britain. It took me a while to understand the way in which the book is written, but once I had, the immersive stories are captivating.

The way in which the stories are woven together is just amazing, delving into race, gender, womanhood and modern realities, it highlights how connected life is.

20. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Genre: Historical (WWII)

There’s a lot of WWII literature available today but what I love most about this book is the German perspective. This book follows the moving story of a young German soldier as he experiences the horrors and death of war. It’s a short read but one that definitely packs a punch.

21. The Island by Victoria Hislop

Genre: Historical romance

When Alexis Fielding wants to learn more about her mother’s past, she goes back to the small Cretan village where she grew up, only to discover it lies across the water from the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga, Greece’s former leper colony.

This is a heartbreaking story about tragedy, war and passion, and how love and life will continue in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

22. Becoming by Michelle Obama

Genre: Memoir

As FLOTUS, Michelle Obama has become an icon for women everywhere. Her memoir looks back over her past and details the story that eventually landed her in the White House. But more than that, she talks about what she did to help make a difference and leave her stamp on American history.

From a truly incredible and inspiring woman, this book is a great read.

23. A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin

Genre: Fantasy

I’m pretty late to the GoT party but I love it. It’s the ultimate epic story, following a bunch of different characters in their adventures across Westeros. The book is all about family, war, betrayal and honour.

Despite the size of the book, I actually found I couldn’t put it down and was completely sucked into the fantasy world of knights and castles.

24. 1984 by George Orwell

Genre: Dystopian

Winston Smith’s job is to skilfully rewrite the past to meet the needs of the Party. As his rebellious spirit starts to emerge, he must be careful because Big Brother is watching. A secret love affair with his colleague is thrilling, but at what cost?

Technically this book is a classic, but I’m including it in my modern must-reads because it’s more relevant now than ever before.

How many of these books have you read? And how many will you be adding to your list?

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