Another year, another list of books. I tried very hard to narrow down my list to a reasonable number and settled on fifteen. My original list had 60! It was a good year for books. The books are sort of in order of preference, as of today. Ask me tomorrow, and the order will change. I tried to include a variety of genres, especially those who don’t usually get the love on these best of lists, like romance. Also included are thrillers, literary fiction, books bound for book club love, and even a holiday romance.
THIS TENDER LAND by William Kent Kruger: The writing is simply superb. The characters are unforgettable, and the setting is rich and evocative. I have seen this book described as an updated Huckleberry Finn, and that is an apt comparison, as is its comparison to Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Homer’s Odyssey. These are some heady correlations, and Kruger’s book easily stands up to them. There are some major themes at play here, starting with the grand adventure on the river. This is an epic odyssey, often chaotic, and at times, spiritual. But other themes are also important, like the deplorable mistreatment of Native Americans in this country, and much of the history revealed here was completely new to me. Book clubs will love it; there is a deep, rich reservoir worthy of discussion.
ALL THIS COULD BE YOURS by Jami Attenberg: Victor was a criminal in his business life, and a tyrant in his personal life, and is at the end of his life; the novel unfolds on the day he has his fatal heart attack. Attenberg is a master of subtlety as she divulges everyone’s thoughts, including the one-off characters like the clerk at a CVS and the coroner. The unusual twist here is that the reader learns all their stories, while the characters do not. Contemporary family sagas don’t get much better than this.
BROMANCE BOOK CLUB by Lyssa Kay Adams: This was the most brilliant and original idea for a romance novel that I have seen in a very long time. The premise of men reading romance novels to learn about women was positively inspired, and made me think all men should be forced to read them! This is a clever, heartwarming, fun and sexy read.
RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE BY Casey McQuiston: To pigeonhole this book is to do it a great disservice. Yes, it is a gay romance. It is also very political, but in a sweet, fantasy sort of way that really appealed to me. Alex and Henry’s story made me laugh and made me cry and especially made me wish for a better America. And if that surprises you, you must be new here. It’s fantastical and idealistic and I loved it.
FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE by Taffy Brodesser-Akner: Toby Fleishman is a recently divorced 40-something doctor in Manhattan, AKA catnip to women, and they are not shy about letting him know. Toby is like a kid in a candy store. This new world order is working for him. Until his ex goes missing, and the party feels like it’s over. A lot of the stuff that happens is laugh out loud funny, and other parts are infuriating and sometimes sad, but all in all, this is a book that begs to be discussed. A first novel with complex characters and a lot of emotion, and I loved the writing.
THE OYSTERVILLE SEWING CIRCLE by Susan Wiggs: This is a book of the #MeToo movement, set in the fashion industry, which for some reason, has been exempt from this. At least I haven’t seen any earth-shattering stories, but as in any industry where mostly men are in power, one can’t help but wonder…This was a very good read, filled with the empathy and power that words can bring to such a dark subject. Book groups will find lots to discuss here.
THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF SAM HELL by Robert Dugoni: Our main character is Sam Hill, AKA Sam Hell, who is born with ocular albinism, which means that the irises of his eyes are red instead of the usual brown, blue, hazel, etc. and hence the nickname. We meet him as an infant, and get to watch him grow up, survive being bullied, and eventually become the man he was meant to be. The writing is really good, almost ethereal in parts, which seems fitting for a book steeped in Catholicism. This was my favorite line: “There comes a day in every man’s life when he stops looking forward and starts looking back.” Something to think about for sure. An excellent read, perfect for book discussion, and I’m just sorry I didn’t get to it sooner.
THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE by Katherine Center: Center turns the whole hot firemen romance genre on its head with Cassie, her feisty, smart woman firefighter. When her estranged mother asks her to move to Boston to take care of her for a little while, The small fire station she joins is Boston Irish, over a hundred years old, and has never had a woman working there, so not easy. But fun, so much fun! There are lots of starred reviews for this and tons of praise, all of it well deserved. It isn’t often that a book lives up to its hype for me, but this one did. I loved it.
DAISY JONES & THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins Reid: This was a fun and nostalgic read for me. The format of the book, for lack of a better word, is interview style of a 70’s rock band. An oral history of sorts. Each character is quoted in response to questions, but we don’t know who is asking the questions or why until the end. So it reads in basically multiple first-person, an interesting technique. It’s also a fast read, especially as I got deeper and deeper into it. It is a very compelling story written in a unique way.
A COWBOY UNDER THE MISTLETOE by Jessica Clare: This romance ticked a lot of boxes that I really like; damaged characters, small town, cowboys, and Christmas. This was a warm, holiday read filled with love and grace and hope. A wonderful holiday romance!
GET A LIFE, CHLOE BROWN by Talia Hibbert: This is a British import and a wonderful read. The push for diversity in romance has been strong, and we, the readers, are reaping the benefits. I loved these characters. I was completely immersed in their world, and could not put down this book.
ELLIE AND THE HARP MAKER by Hazel Prior: I am loving this trend of romances with a main protagonist “on the spectrum,” as they say, and even though it is never explicitly stated, it doesn’t have to be. Dan builds beautiful and unique Celtic harps in his barn and lives upstairs. When Ellie stumbles onto his shop in the woods, he gifts her with a harp. Her husband is not happy about it, to say the least. This is a charming story, full of pathos and drama and love. I loved the Britishness of this story and especially the uniqueness of these English characters. The difference in our cultures is apparent here, and I loved that.
MY LOVELY WIFE by Samantha Downing: This was a dark but super fun read. The couple in this book are serial killers, yes a married couple, and they are killing for the fun of it. Super creepy. That is a hard thing to get around yet somehow Downing convinces us to root for them. It’s like magic. Or talent. Or both. There are some excellent twists in the story for sure, and the ending was a real surprise for me. It was truly unputdownable and I loved it!
THE WEIGHT OF A PIANO by Chris Cander: This book opens with the construction of a Blüthner piano, a fascinating tale about a brand of piano I had not heard of, that is supposedly in the same class as a Steinway. The story then moves back and forth in time, following the piano through two storylines. Cander makes it possible to grow attached to an inanimate object, for her characters and the reader. This is an excellent read sure to be beloved by book groups as there is much to discuss here, from the immigration of Russian Jews to the relationships that are so well depicted.
JUDGMENT by Joseph Finder: Wow! This is Finder’s best book so far, and that is saying a lot. I loved this character, Juliana is a working mom with all that goes along with that, has what seems like a pretty good marriage, at least from the outside, and a job that she loves. But there are definitely cracks in the marriage and her little infidelity brings such enormous consequences that the marriage is the least of it. The story is compelling, the characters seem like people I could know. This was a nonstop read for me, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.