I have re-read these many times, usually during my teen/ young adult years, so many of them have a romantic element. I still like them all, though perhaps not so obsessively as I once did.
Restoree by Anne McCaffrey – one of her earliest books. I’ve always loved stories where the protagonist has amnesia and rediscovers self as the story moves along. Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny is another one.
Ice Crown by Andre Norton – (SPOILER!) the idea that a whole society could have been programmed and run by computers still fascinates me.
Damiano, first in A Trio for Lute, by R.A. MacAvoy – I learned a lot from this trilogy about good and evil as the archangels Michael and Lucifer interact with Damiano.
Uncharted Territory by Connie Willis – amazing pov. Saying more would be a total spoiler.
Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott – Not as well known as Little Women, but in some ways I liked it better, because Rose’s struggles as an introvert to fit in seemed more like my own.
Madam, Will You Talk by Mary Stewart – I love it when the main characters totally misunderstand one another and have to sort themselves out. Mary Stewart’s descriptions of place are always an inspiration.
Bedknob and Broomstick by Mary Norton – very different from the movie (which made the title words plural). I like both versions because magic is used in the “real” world.
Five Children and It by E. Nesbit – Again, magic in the real world, if an old-fashioned one. My favorite stories of magic, when I was young, involved regular children finding “it” somehow (in this case, magic takes the form of the Psammead). Half Magic by Edward Eager is another example.
I learned more about history from reading historical novels than I ever did in history classes. Not necessarily totally accurate facts, but, more important, I think, the realization that history really happened to real people, and that someday my own time would be history to someone. I was also introduced to some strong-minded women, both real and fictional, who fought to be themselves in times when women faced enormous disadvantages.
Red Adam’s Lady by Grace Ingram – Norman conquest. I wonder if Diana Gabaldon read this one, because Jaime reminds me of Red Adam and Claire of Julitta.
Great Maria by Cecelia Holland – southern Italy, 11th century. Another incredibly strong woman who perseveres through violent, chaotic events.
Power of Darkness by Doris Sutcliffe Adams – King John, witchcraft, murder and love.
Katherine by Anya Seton – 14th century England. Another one based on a true story and a woman who lived through tumultuous events and had a huge influence on later ones.
Dawn’s Early Light by Elswyth Thane – The cost of the American Revolution was made real for me in this story of a young English patriot who becomes a young American patriot.
Desiree by Annemarie Selinko – Based on the true story of a woman who survives the French revolution, an engagement to Napoleon and becomes queen of Sweden and Norway.
The Winding Stair by Jane Aiken Hodge – Napoleonic wars. I’m not sure why I loved this one so much. It is a pretty typical Gothic romance, but I was fascinated by the intrigue and by a heroine from Portugal.
Trade Wind by M.M. Kaye – Zanzibar in the 1800s. Kaye’s later novel The Far Pavilions is much better known, but as a young woman I enjoyed this more because it moved faster, and because it was about a place I had never read about before. I also fell in love with Rory.
Calico Palace by Gwen Bristow – Gold rush San Francisco and the perils and rewards of making a living as a woman in a town filled with greedy men.
Assignment in Brittany by Helen MacInnes – A spy in France in WWII. The spy is male, but he depends on a young woman who is serious and straight-forward – the antithesis of the usual romantic heroine.
Things Invisible to See by Nancy Willard – WWII. I learned about a more poetic, less straight-forward writing style from Willard. Also about love and sacrifice.
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey – A bed-ridden detective tries to figure out what happened to Richard III’s nephews. I learned how difficult historical research can be.