Emma by Jane Austen (Penguin, $8). I’m constantly torn between this and Pride and Prejudice as my all-time favorite Jane Austen books; her wit and observation is unsurpassed. Emma is such a lovable, flawed heroine, and I think her epiphany over Mr. Knightley is one of the most romantic moments in all fiction.
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech (Harper Trophy, $6). This is a short, vivid children’s book about writing poetry. It weaves in allusions to famous poems, which are then quoted at the end—and it tells its own funny and very poignant story about Jack, a boy who can’t understand poetry and doesn’t want to. I recommend it to everyone.
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield (Prion, $18). This is a gem of the 1930s, with one of the most endearing, funny characters in British literature. The heroine is a country lady with a wry sense of humor and I adore her self-deprecating commentary on life. She faces many of the same problems as any modern-day woman (obtuse husbands, bills that won’t add up) and some that are utterly of their time (the terror of having to speak to the staff).
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (Berkley, $7). To be truthful, I’d have to recommend all of Agatha Christie books. They are comfort reading of the highest order; I love to escape into that cozy world of English villages, butlers, and country houses. I’m also very fortunate that I often forget “whodunit,” so I can read them again and again!
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney (Simon & Schuster, $15). I was on the judging panel that awarded this novel Costa Book of the Year last year, and absolutely loved it. It’s a gripping, atmospheric murder story set in the snowy wastes of Canada, with some wonderful descriptions of an extreme landscape. I never knew I could be so riveted by snow.
Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (Signet, $4). I read both Alice books as a child and always preferred the sequel. It is full of the most fabulous mind games and riddles. The characters are wonderful—Humpty Dumpty is one of the all-time great comic creations—and throughout there’s a marvelous sense of menace.