Okay, I just put in an order for The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel, and The One-Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Thanks ladies, this thread rocks! Super thanks to southern.maple who started it.
And re: The Belgariad, yeah, can't say enough about it, especially for younger readers, although I think older readers could be charmed by it as well. Between that, Narnia and Prydain, my brother and I traveled to some pretty far out places.
*avid devourer of YA and Christian lit elbows her way into the thread, rudely*
Yes: I do read almost entirely Young Adult and/or Christian books. Because I do. And I feel the need to mention (while hopefully avoiding the entirely possible up-too-late-on-the-internet rudeness) that there is no such thing as "just YA" or "YA, but..." or "technically YA." (And not all YA is zombies/dystopia/vampires/angst either, nor is all Christian fic preachy, but I'm not here to go on a rampage.)
Now that that's out of the way, some top-of-the-head recommendations:
~I'm seconding or thirding or fourthing The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak. It's set during WWII/The Holocaust, so it's not exactly light summer reading--about as far as you can get from it, actually--but it's achingly beautiful. The writing is just...stellar. And Rudy is one of THE best fictional guys around. YA or Adult lit. And this book's earned a coveted position on the list of books that made me cry, which is only two books long. (In the vein of WWII/Holocaust books, I've also heard great things about Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, but I've never read either).
~The other book on the made-me-cry list is Chasing Jupiter, by Rachel Coker. It's a teen book by a teen author, and it's also unflinchingly Christian, so go into it knowing that. It's historical fiction set in Georgia during the 1960's (I think, my memory's a little fuzzy and I'm feeling too lazy to go check for sure), but it's not issue-y. It's about family, and a little bit of romance, and a whole lot of bittersweet, and some happily-ever-after. It is definitely a summer read.
~If you don't mind some blatant Christian themes and some not-exactly-stellar fantasy naming, then I heartily recommend Karen Hancock's Legends of the Guardian King tetralogy, the first book of which is The Light of Eidon. (Seriously, ignore the names, the names of the characters and the names of the books themselves). Fairly standard high fantasy fare, and it has some marvelously deep characters who only get better as the series goes on.
~Oh, and I dare not forget The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta: Finnikin of the Rock, Froi of the Exiles, and Quintana of Charyn. It's technically a trilogy, though I like to think of it more as a stand-alone novel followed by a duology, with the duology being incomplete unless you read the stand-alone first. It's YA high fantasy (this one completely without a Christian slant) with amazingly rich characters and WRITING. And the names are pretty awesome, too. I've also heard amazing things about Jellicoe Road by the same author--crazy-complex YA contemp--but I myself have been unable to get past the first fifty pages.
~It's a little Hunger-Games-y, but I can't let the opportunity go by without recommending Defiance by CJ Redwine. It's action-packed, but the action is balanced, appropriate for the novel, and--most important--it is necessary for the character growth. It's very much aimed toward a teen audience, but that doesn't mean it will subtract from adults' enjoyment of the book. It's complex and achy and tragic and joyful and the characters practically jump off the page.
~And--last one, I promise--there's The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica, by James A Owen, the first book of which is titled Here, There Be Dragons. To be perfectly honest, I'm unclear on whether this one is 'officially' YA or not--I've had it recommended to me by adults and teens, the main characters are adults, it was in the teen's section at the library...but my confusion is irrelevant to the total win that makes up these books. It's kind of high-fantasy, kind of sci-fi, kind of historical fiction, kind of 'I don't care what genre I am because I am awesome anyway.' In one sentence, it is, "There is an atlas of imaginary worlds which is kept by famous people throughout the years, and now the not-so-imaginary worlds it maps are in danger," but it is so much more than that. I still get teary whenever I think of the characters. And it's a seven-book series, the last book of which is coming out this November, so it would make a good wrap-up to the summer.
Thanks for suffering through my long list of books, and please don't bite me for biting you guys regarding YA lit.
And feel free to drop by the Writers' Corner forum: I'm sure folks there will give you excellent recommendations, too. We don't bite. ;) (I mean, except for the vampires...)
*sidles out of conversation with sideways glance at list, waving hesitant good-bye*
I'm amazed that no one has suggested this, considering the way you described your tastes, but I'm about 150 pages into Les Miserables, and it is phenomenal. Definitely a book to take up most of your summer, but it is a masterpiece. A huge, intricate, drawn out masterpiece. I'd compare it to Atlas Shrugged in terms of length and plot structure (they are complete opposites in regards to theme), but Victor Hugo spends an immense amount of time on his characters. He really gets into the human psyche, so you come to understand his characters perfectly; this doesn't normally happen. After getting used to the translated language (which I tend to have difficulties with) it's beautifully written.
I don't know if you're into Sci-Fi, but two of the BEST books I've ever read are Dune, by Frank Herbert, and Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. I've read Dune three times since the sixth grade and each time I notice and pick up on more things. It is fantastic and complex and thoroughly entertaining. Ender's Game is one of the few books that has made me cry, and at some point here I need to reread that one as well.
I'm really glad other people have read The Belgariad. Hands down, it is the best fantasy series I've ever read. Another one that I've read three times and still adored. There are not enough good things I can say about this series, the sequel series, and the companion books. Too much awesome to be contained. Just read them.
An odd little series I discovered in middle school was The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. If you like semi-post-apocalyptic sci-fi, this is a great read. I need to go back and read them again, actually...
A few of my personal favorites:
The Persian Boy
Memoirs of Hadrian
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat-Rack
Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (WARNING: this one has a lot of explicit sex)
The Homeward Bounders
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
The Baroque Cycle
The Inimitable Jeeves
A People's History of the United States
Oh my gosh, how could I forget!
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire! I simply cannot say enough wonderful things about this book and the musical based on it. The heroine is so poignant and stunning, the Oz he envisions so complex and interesting... This book threw me into obsessive chaos for a good six months. It changed my life, because I related so well to Elphaba, and her integrity struck me to the core. A truly phenomenal work.
The book will touch your soul, and the musical will touch your heart. I saw it live in Seattle last November and could hardly sleep that night, it was so amazing.
Just... everything. If you do nothing else this Summer, read this book. It is, thus far, my all-time favorite.
I want to second augusta_lee on the Baroque Cycle, and anything else by Neil Stephenson (though it sounds very far from your preferred genres-- lots of high-level math, physics, comp sci and codebreaking but *amazing* storytelling).
Also, more up your alley, you might like an Irish writer named Tana French. She writes very detailed psychological crime thrillers, always from the view of a cop, and with a shifting but related first-person narrator each book. She was a method actress beforehand and her personality portraits and dialogue absolutely can't be beat, seriously some of the best I've ever read in high literature or low. My favorite is 'the Likeness.'
oh, and thanks for the recommendation of 'Every Man Dies Alone.' Quite liked it.
I'll just chime in very late if that's okay.
I want to second about 50% of previous suggestions but that would take too long, so: Picture of Dorian Gray, Paradise Lost, Anna Karenina, A Great and Terrible Beauty and Cloud Atlas. I'm a bit infatuated with Cloud Atlas--it's just so fascinating. It's really more of a collection of related short stories than a novel, and the author shifts tones/genres/voices like a chameleon.
Anything by Margaret Atwood, especially Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood.
Oscar Wilde's more obscure works. I love Vera, or the Nihilists, Salome, and Duchess of Padua.
Promise Not to Tell by Jennifer McMahon
The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
The Princess Bride by William Goldman (has anyone suggested that yet?)
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Barnum Museum by Steven Millhauser (probably my favorite book ever; a collection of eerily beautiful short stories, mostly magical realism, the author won a Pulitzer in '97 so obviously it's good writing)
The Monstrumologist series by Rick Yancey (Absolutely brilliant. Really transcends the YA category, if you read one thing from this list, read these)
Unwind by Neal Shusterman. Actually anything by Neal Shusterman. His writing is nothing to write home about (ha) but his plots are great.
Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma. It wasn't good, exactly, but the premise was really fascinating and it would make a fantastic movie.
Downburst by Katie Robison
The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin
The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon is amazing. It's written from the perspective of an autistic teen and it's such a good read. It really pulls you in and you could finish it in about a day.
I also love The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. Despite being about the Vietnam War, the prose in this book is beautiful. This is probably my favorite book. O'Brien's In the Lake in the Woods is another well-written but somewhat disturbing novel about a veteran whose wife goes missing.
I think the other books I would recommend have already been mentioned. I second World War Z- despite being about zombies the amount of research the author did is ridiculous. I've re-read that book maybe three times. It's written as if survivors of the zombie apocalypse are being interviewed for their stories, so if a particular story doesn't catch your interest there are others that might (although it's good to read all of them since later interviews reference or clarify information said in previous ones).
I had to read Jane Eyre for school last summer and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.
Life of Pi is also great if you haven't read it yet.
Oh, how could I forget- any of Gillian Flynn's books. She writes amazing, slightly-disturbing mystery/thriller novels. I started Dark Places (which is my favorite) when I was on a trip to NYC, and every free moment I had, whether I was on the subway or waiting in line, I would take it out and keep reading. Her newest book, Gone Girl, came out when I was on a trip to the beach and the exact same thing happened. Her books just pull you in, and I can't recommend them highly enough. Her first book, which is also great but not my favorite (although I think it's my mom's favorite), is called Sharp Objects.
This has been an awesome, helpful thread. Now I just need to hit the library and figure out where to start...