in no particular order, and this is definitely not comprehensive, because well, I’ve got the free version of WordPress. There is a space limit to consider here.
Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver. What gorgeous writing.
The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley – this may be the first book that inspired Sword, though certainly not the only one!
House of Sand and Fog, by Andre Dubus III – again, stunning writing.
The Riddle Master trilogy by Patricia McKillip. I find her style riveting, and this early story of hers was epic without having an overwhelmingly huge cast, which is a hard line to walk. Lovely.
Faery in Shadow, by C.J. Cherryh. Great story, and the voice is so authentic and different.
The Great and Secret Show, by Clive Barker – what an amazing imagination that man has, and such a turn of phrase.
Pink Slip, by Rita Ciresi; her characterization is so strong, and the story really resonated with me as I used to be an english major working in pharmaceuticals, trying to keep up with all the drug names and picking my way through painful scientific documents.
It, by Stephen King – he captures childhood fears and childhood friendships wonderfully in that book.
Cyteen, by C.J. Cherryh – convolute, complicated as hell -part deep psychology, part political thriller, part social theory and all strong SF with fabulous characterisation. I have no idea how she keeps up with all those plot lines.
(and you can pretty much put anything by Cherryh on my list; I won’t name them all here, but I’ve loved them all so far.)
Anything Harry Potter. Do you really need me to list the author? Say what you will about word counts and publicity, the woman can write, and her research is second to none. I waited by the mailbox for each installment, and skipped a very good party to read the last one.
Imagica by Clive Barker – and again, if it’s got his name on it just go ahead and put it on my list.
Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy – great MC, great story, modern and snazzy and fun.
Cygnet by Patricia McKillip – Meguet was definitely part of the inspiration for my own MC, Kyali.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman – again, sweeping story without an overwhelming cast, and such an original story.
The Rapture of Canaan, by Sheri Reynolds: haunting writing, and she captures the naievete of her sheltered teenage MC so well it’s painful to read sometimes.
The Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell: Jesuits in space, but done so well it seems perfectly believable, and the emotional arc of her character is riveting.
I’ll stop there for now, though I’m sure I’ll think of a thousand more that should be on here. Feel free to add your own!