The River City Reading Recommendation Starter Pack


Sometimes I feel like I’m just constantly recommending the same few books and I desperately need a new bag of tricks. But there is some truth to that whole not broke/don’t fix it thing, at least when it comes to great books. Maybe, rather than new bag of tricks, I need a standard one; a starter pack made up of my most recommended reads, wrapped up and ready to hand over at a moments notice.

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

This is my go-to pick for readers looking to give nonfiction a shot. Larson blends history and true crime in a way that reads like fiction, with a triple dose of random facts and fascinating information.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

This book has so many elements that make it a great piece for pairing. The writing is gorgeous and the setting is unique, but it falls in with a long line of brilliant war novels.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Science and religion and space and everything that shouldn’t fit together but somehow does makes The Sparrow one I have to throw at everyone looking for something eye-opening or different.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

There are a million and one reasons to read Tiny Beautiful Things and if you can’t think of one I will find it for you.

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

There’s just something about a great short novel with a feminist voice and a fantastic twist at the end that makes it super easy to recommend.

What would you include in your recommendation starter pack?


  • Awesome selection, I would probably have Shadow of the Wind in my recommendation starter kit. Will have to think of more

  • thetangledwebweweave

    Great list, I’m going to put all of them on my tbr! Mine would be The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern for sure,probably Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan, Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver for nonfiction, Ravenheart by David Gemmell for fantasy, and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi or Neil Gaimans The Sandman series for graphic novels..

  • Oh my gosh – yes!! I recommend the same books all the time…and The Wife is one of them! I love your concept of the starter pack – and have two of these on my “need to read at some point” list (Tiny Beautiful Things and Marra).

  • I love the starter pack concept! Tiny Beautiful Things would be in mine too. Devil in the White City is one of the books I’ve owned the longest without reading – it’s shameful. I’m not familiar with anything else on your list, so I will definitely have to check them out.

  • Kay

    You’ve got two that I’ve read here and I loved both of them. The Sparrow – what a different book and I can remember trying to describe it to my husband. Don’t think I did a good job. Devil In The White City was a much-loved book when my mystery group discussed it. We hardly ever do non-fiction there, naturally, but this one was fun.

    • Ha! I’ve tried to push The Sparrow on my husband so many times, but I haven’t been able to properly sell it yet.

  • I’m reading The Devil in the White City right now- my second Erik Larson.
    A few books I have recommended on many occasions are Still Alice, The Orenda, Sweetland, Do You Think This is Strange, The Dirty Life, and Malarky. I’m sure there are some that I’m forgetting…

    • Ohhh, Sweetland is one I’ve started recommending a ton since I read it, too. I think it will definitely end up being one I recommend frequently.

  • Oh, my gosh…this reminds me that I want to read Tiny Beautiful Things again and I need my own copy (borrowed it the first time around); The Devil in the White City is soooo good, too! What a great compilation; I love this! Um, I’ll add Born to Run…for obvious reasons. :)

  • What a diverse group of books. Would you consider these as slumpbusters? I’ve never read The Sparrow or The Wife so am going to add those to my list. As for my most recommended books I can only think of two off the top of my head: The Elegance of the Hedgehog and Skeletons at the Feast.

    • Oh, I think both of them would be awesome slump busters, but definitely The Wife…it’s so short you can knock it out in a day or two and it has this *great* ending.

  • Lindsey Stefan

    I love so many of these, but I haven’t read The Sparrow yet. I will definitely make a note to do that!

  • I feel like I recommend the same books over and over again, too! I love that you found a way to make a post out of it. ;) My starter pack would probably be five copies of Beloved.

    A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and Tiny Beautiful Things are two I’ve meant to get to for a while. I even have the first on my shelf!

  • Hahaha, I love this idea! I don’t think I have a generic recommendation pack like this, but I definitely have go-tos for specific things — like if someone says they want to try graphic novels and they’re nervous about it, I will recommend Persepolis and Saga every time. Or if they say YA, Eleanor and Park and The Raven Boys. (So predictable.)

  • This is such a great idea. I need to think. I think this should become some sort of book blogger meme.

  • Amanda

    Oh I love this! I am starting to be ashamed I haven’t read Tiny Beautiful Things yet. I’m going to have to give my starter pack some thought.

  • Well. I might include Station Eleven in the starter pack because it’s so readable and good. I was hooked.

  • I love this idea. I don’t know what I would choose, but definitely something by Richard Russo.

  • Fantastic!! I think A Constellation of Vital Phenomena would be on my list too, as well as The Book Thief, Ari and Dante, and Hyperion. I also really like The Sparrow, The Devil in the White City, and Tiny Beautiful Things :)

  • Pingback: #WeekendReads {The Currently October Edition} |

  • Pingback: Link Love: October 2015 - The Emerald City Book Review()

  • Jennine G.

    Great list. Either I’ve read them or they’re on my TBR! I like the idea of a “starter pack” for reading. Could do it by genre or author…cool.

  • Pingback: October 2015 Monthly Round-Up | Sarah's Book Shelves()

  • Care

    Okie dokie, adding the Marra and the Wolitzer to my tbr. I’ve read the others or already know I should read. GREAT list!

    • Care

      (whoops – already on my tbr – just need to bump up to top of the list.Oh what a day of tbr toppling this is going to be.)

  • I really enjoyed Devil in the White City. Definitely good for those hesitant about nonfiction. The Sparrow is one of the many, many books that I haven’t read yet but know I will love.

  • Eve’s Bookish Confections

    I found “The Wife” recently at a thrift store and almost put it back! So glad it’s safe on my shelf. Excited to give it a read.

  • Great picks!! Devil in the White City is an excellent choice to start non-fiction with.

    Thanks for sharing.