November 7, 2013
There is a page here at The Feminine Gift called 'Inspiration' which provides a list of books that have inspired Sarah and I as we have been learning about authentic femininity.

We recently received a comment* there from Cheryl Dickow (of Bezalel Books) in which she says,

I would love to suggest that fiction books speak to women in a special way.” And you know what? She's right!

A novel is usually the story of a person, a group of people, or a family, which speaks right to a woman's heart, doesn't it?

So I got to thinking of the novels that have (as an adult) inspired me, brought me a great deal of enjoyment, or otherwise lingered in my memory, and have come up with this list. I must stress right away that these are only in the order they have come to mind, not ranked according to any standard.

The Guernsey literary and potato peel pie society – by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer.

It all begins with an inscription inside a book, discovered on the Channel Island of Guernsey not long after WWII. This is an epistolary novel, told through letters between several people who share their experiences of the war. It is about books and writing and survival and friendship and sorrow and love. It is, for me, a thoroughly satisfying story, and a book I recommend at any opportunity.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte.

Unlike that dark and mournful book by the Other Bronte, Jane Eyre, though the story about a badly treated little girl who grows up to fall in love with a tormented married man, is actually about virtue, hope, redemption, forgiveness, and love. Jane could so easily have become a bitter and unhappy person considering the lack of love or even simple kindness in her childhood. Instead she becomes strong of character with a quiet faith in God, and remains able to love. She inspires the brooding Rochester to become worthy of her. Every girl dreams of being able to do just that, doesn't she?

Brideshead revisited, by Evelyn Waugh.

This is a story of faith, told through the lives of the Marchmain family, and Charles Ryder who befriends and observes them. Each character illustrates different stages in the acceptance of God's grace. This is a profoundly Catholic novel, not only because it addresses faith, but because it portrays human relationships with honesty and dignity. Truly one of the most beautiful books I've ever read.

Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset

This is actually a trilogy, comprised of The Wreath, The Wife, The Cross, all written in the 1920s in Norwegian. The three novels tell of the life of Kristin, who lived in Norway not long after its conversion to Christianity. They are so rich in detail and the characters are so finely drawn that the reader can't help but enter into Kristin's world – and it is a Catholic world in which every facet of life was coloured by faith. These books are enjoyable lessons in history as well as gentle reminders to treasure the faith we have been given.

Father Elijah, by Michael D. O'Brien.
Painting by
the author

An apocalypse, a thriller, a call to repentance, a beautifully crafted novel. This is a book that most people, I'm sure, consume in gluttonous gulps, reading it entire in a few days. The reader can't help but look at the world and the state of things, wondering just how prophetic this tale is.

Roots, by Alex Haley.

This is the fictionalized history of Haley's family, beginning with Kunta Kinte who was captured and sold to slave traders, down to Haley himself. Though I don't remember specific details of the book, I can still feel the emotions I had while reading it. There are periods of our collective past we can only regret and be ashamed of; the slave trade of black people is one of them. I don't know what I would think of the book if I were to read it again now, but it certainly packed an emotional punch that lingers to today.

The Peter Wimsey stories by Dorothy L. Sayers.

Even more than Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, is Lord Peter Wimsey my ultimate literary hero. Wimsey is a fully realized character, with quirks and flaws enough, but also virtue and nobility and integrity. This series of 12 books takes place during the Long Weekend, the period in British history between the World Wars. These are stories I go back to again and again, and every time I do, I long to meet a man like Lord Peter; he is my idea of Prince Charming. Also to recommend the books, is the deft pen of the author. Sayers tackled the puzzle mystery, the whodunit, the novel of manners, social commentary and managed to be entertaining while doing so.

Regencies of Georgette Heyer.

Georgette Heyer wrote roughly 27 romances set in the Regency period (1811-1820). She is known for meticulous and exhaustive research, and for the depth of period detail she wrote into each of her stories, from social etiquette, clothing, and food, to vocabulary and military details. Though they are called romances and are certainly about love and happily ever after, Heyer's stories have little in common with the modern version of the genre. The hero may be strong and commanding, sweeping his true love into his arms at one point, but if they so much as kiss, Georgette Heyer leaves the details vague – in part because of the period of which she wrote, in part because of the time in which she wrote (she began in the late 1920s). She has no need to use sex to make her novels interesting, as they are lighthearted, entertaining, adventurous, vibrant, and funny. This is another set of books I reread often.

Bridget Jones's diary, by Helen Fielding.

I won't say too much about this, and won't even recommend it, as it may be too risque for some. However, I'm including it in my list because this was a book that had me literally – honestly and truly – laughing out loud as I read it. I still laugh remembering some scenes, such as poor Bridget trying to prepare a dinner for her friends. She has baking tins of mashed potatoes on her kitchen floor and steps in them in her kitten-heeled shoes. Fielding is a very funny writer... if you think the movie is funny, the book is a million times more so. I'd like to say here that it might seem odd that Bridgie makes my list while her inspiration, the brilliant Miss Austen is not. I read many of her novels as a young teen so she doesn't fit the criteria of the list.

Yet right away I'm going to bend the rules to suit myself: My cheater inclusion, because I read him for the first time in my childhood - not as an adult, but I can't write a list of books and not include the eminent J. R. R. Tolkien. His Lord of the Rings trilogy breaks so many of the rules they tell you must be followed in order to create successful fiction. This pipe-smoking, walk-through-the-forest-loving, tweed-wearing professor of long forgotten languages was quite a literary rebel. He left us a body of work that has inspired an entirely new genre of fiction, not to mention film makers, musicians, and writers everywhere.  A forest has always been a place of enchantment to me since I read about Middle Earth. So, with a tip of the hat, I say thank you, Mr. Tolkien, for hobbits, and ents, and mithril, and The Shire.

And so, there is my list. Of course there are plenty of other books that have been important to me, that I have enjoyed a great deal, or that I have thought were simply brilliant. One has to draw a line somewhere though, and call the list done, and this is where I'm drawing my line.

I'd love to hear from all of you. What novels have you read as an adult that have left their mark on you in some way?

*In her comment on our Inspiration page, Cheryl also says,
"In fact, I'd be glad to offer a few free copies of my books Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage and Miriam: Repentance and Redemption in Rome to some bloggers who might want to read them and share how fiction can feed your soul!

If anyone is interested, Please contact me at and let me know which book interests you and give me a mailing address and we'll get you a copy!"



  1. I love being able to share my thoughts on books! Here are a few blog posts that I wrote about some novels that really touched my heart:

    1. Wow Anne, I saw the Pope's article and noticed he spoke about The Betrothed - kudo's to you for reading it. It sounds like everything a good book should be! It's definitely making my list. Thank you.

  2. I second Brideshead Revisited and Kristen Lavransdatter. Also In This House of Brede is very good. This is a story of a prominent career woman (who has it "all") leaving her job to enter a cloistered convent.

  3. I've been meaning to reread Kristen for ages now. The trilogy knocked my socks off when I first read it. A few years ago I saw an animated short about Sigrid Undset. I wish I could remember what it was called!
    Thanks for sharing The House of Brede with us. I will add it to my list of 'must read someday' books!



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