It’s time for my annual round-up of my favorite books of the year! Oh, my.
I read so many books this year. Like over 100. Some were really, really good and some I had to plod through.
I tried to pick my top ten favorites but ended up with eleven. So, here we go.
(By the way, these are in order with the very best of the year at the end!)
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One Day in December by Josie Silver
This book was a little different! Definitely chick-lit, but enjoyable. It is the story of Laurie who sees a man from her bus window. Their eyes meet and they have an amazing instant connection. As the bus pulls away she wonders who he is and wants to see him again, of course, because she truly believes this is love at first sight. Weeks go by before she sees him again and it just happens to turn out that he is her best friend’s boyfriend.
Will she keep the secret of their connection (although, for goodness sake, they only made eye contact)? They become good friends and for the next ten years randomly see one another. There are misunderstandings, some drama, and some missed opportunities to get together. This was a page-turner for me! Try it- 5 stars!
The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
It’s the 1970s when David Sorenson and Marilyn Connolly meet and fall in love. Now, married for 40 years they are as intensely in love and enthralled with one another as they were in the early years. Is it all blissful? Well, no, real-life intrudes- even in a novel. David and Marilyn have four daughters- all very different from one another.
The book spans the passage of the 40 years of David and Marilyn and how they cope with all the drama of raising four daughters. Their marriage seems magical, yet has its share of angst. The one lasting piece of their legacy is their devotion to one another and how this affects the relationships of all their children. Can any of the girls find this kind of future with their own spouses?
The book alternates with present-day and the history of the couple. It also alternates its point of view in telling about each person. It is quite beautifully written – in a style that is mesmerizing. Here’s is a passage from David-after his father has died. He and Marilyn had been caught up in his father’s illness and caring for their children and had spent many months not communicating very well. When the news comes that his father has died, Marilyn reached for David, in comfort.
“…the amazing reality of Marilyn’s hand in his, the seamless return to form after a long stretch of adversity, the weight of his wife against his arm when she knew he needed her. That was the kind of love he had never known until her and, at that moment, remembered how lucky he was to have. He inhaled her and held her and let himself be held and that, he knew, softened the blow of the news.”
This is one that Audible suggested for me, but I read the real book and loved it. I can recommend it highly! 5 stars (but it is lengthy at 500+ pages).
The River by Peter Heller
What a fabulous book! I loved this one and you will, too. It is the story of two close friends, Wynn and Jack, that set out on a well-planned canoeing trip in Canada. They have every possible supply they will need and are just in for a great adventure. The first sign of ensuing problems is when they discover they can see a wildfire ahead of them and they must make some decisions about continuing the trip.
They realize that traveling on the river can be very dangerous as the fire rages across the water. In the meantime, they approach a camp with two men in it and decide to warn them about the fire. The men are not very friendly and Wynn and Jack leave them alone- figuring they at least tried to warn them. Further down the river they come upon another camp and overhear a loud argument between a man and woman and decide to move on by without bothering them.
This is just the beginning of their troubles! Eventually, they must rescue someone and alter their course as they flee the fire. This is a short book, but it is jam-packed with page-turning action. The descriptions of the fire and the animals is profound. You will feel like you are right in the middle of the forest. Highly recommend this one! 5 Stars!
When All is Said by Anne Griffin
This is the story of Maurice Hannigan. One day in late June of his 84th year he enters a hotel bar and begins to drink. With each of his five different drinks, he relates the story of the five people in his life that were of importance to him.
He begins with his older brother, Tony.
Growing up very poor and sharing a room with Tony and his sisters, Maurice worshipped his brother. In fact, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Maurice replied, “Tony.” His closest friend and hero was this brother. There are parts of this message about Tony that are moving and brought me to tears as I read.
The second person Maurice tells about is Molly. Molly was a daughter born to Maurice and his wife. Her story is poignant and moving and brought me to tears again. Mixed in with Molly’s story are glimpses into how the neighbors fared over the years. Maurice and his mother had both worked for the wealthy Dollards. Hugh Dollard was a mean man that abused everyone and occasionally took his wrath out on Maurice, as did one of his sons named Thomas. Now, years later, Maurice learns more about what eventually happened to Thomas and the rest of the Dollard family. Thomas’ fate has something to do with an act that Maurice committed as a young boy- something he had no idea would happen.
There are three more people that Maurice tells about, all equally mesmerizing. He drinks to Noreen, his wife’s handicapped sister. Parts of her story are funny, but other parts are sad. Then Maurice tells about his son, Kevin, who moved to America and became a renowned journalist. Finally, Maurice ends this evening mission by talking about his wife, Sadie. This quote will give you a glimpse into Maurice,
“The deep-down kind of love that holds on to your bones and digs itself right in under your fingernails, as hard to budge as the years of compacted earth. And when it’s gone… it’s as if it’s been ripped from you. Raw and exposed…”
This book started a little slow for me, but quickly became one I will not forget. It’s poignant and sweet and incredibly moving. There is a sadness about it, but it’s really a love story. Love for this man and his family and perhaps his life. Definitely five stars for this one! It’s a Must-Read!
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
This true story will keep you mesmerized with the atrocities of concentration camps during World War II and the tale of Lale and his life as a prisoner. Lale, a young man from Slovakia, is imprisoned at Auschwitz, where he “luckily” becomes the tattooist. Since he also speaks several languages he is able to maintain relationships with the guards and commanders. This is how he survives when many around him are taken almost daily to be shot or gassed.
One day he sees a young girl and becomes quickly enamored with her. Her name is Gita and Lale manages to meet her and they become lovers. Lale is able to contract with local workers and those inside the prison camp to trade jewels for extra food or chocolate. It seems improbable, but his charm and resourcefulness keep him alive. Everything about Lale’s life inside is not all good and you will discover this as you read.
There are horror stories involving men and women he befriends and there is always the chance that Lale or Gita will become the next statistic. You should read this book simply for its historic value and the eye-opening scenes of the conditions prisoners suffered during WWII. It is not exceptionally well written, but it was a page-turner for me nonetheless. 5 stars!
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni
Another beautifully written book with a wonderful story! Sam Hill was born with an unusual eye-color, actually pinkish-red. Tormented and bullied in his elementary school, Sam is constantly encouraged by his parents, especially his mother. This book ends up being a fabulous testament to a mother’s love and the resilience it presented to a son.
Sam is befriended while still in primary school by two other students that are equally considered misfits as he is. One is Ernie Cantwell, the only African American in the school. The other is Michaela (Mickey) Kennedy, an unfortunate young girl that is virtually raising herself. These three are quite inseparable as youngsters and remain so through college and their lives as young adults. Not unsurprisingly, Sam and Mickey both become ophthalmologists. Ernie plays professional football and then creates a successful computer company.
Right in the middle of these are several crises that challenge all three of them, especially Sam. And all through the book the continued devotion of Sam’s parents to him and to each other is a remarkable story. This book was mesmerizing! I loved all the characters and really did not want the book to end! This one is well worth your time! Five stars for this one!
The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand
Definitely 5 stars! I really enjoyed this book. It has been in my next read basket for a while – which makes me mad! I should have picked it up long ago! And it is not a typical Elin Hilderbrand book.
This one is a fast-paced thriller!
On the morning of Celeste’s wedding to Benji she finds her maid of honor floating in the ocean. Merritt is dead and an investigation into what happened begins. Celeste is supposed to be married on Nantucket with a lavish wedding being thrown by Benji’s rather wealthy parents. Her parents arrive at the seaside mansion and you find out that Karen has cancer and doesn’t expect to live much longer. The two are on Nantucket to be at their daughter’s wedding. Also entering the picture is Shooter Uxley, Benji’s best man and a woman named Featherleigh.
There are many possibilities for what happened to Merritt and over a few days of investigating, many secrets are revealed. Chapters alternate with the story of how Benji and Celeste met and what the police officers are discovering as they interview all the wedding guests and the families. I loved this book! It was a great departure from Ms. Hilderbrand’s romance style- a real who-dun-it that you will not be able to figure out! 5 stars!
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
This. Book. Oh. My. It’s the story of Mary Beth and husband Glen- a married couple in their prime. They have three teenage children. There is Ruby, a high school student, with a quirky personality and the strong will of that age. She is really delightful but can be obstinate and abrupt (again, she is a teenager). There are twins, Alex and Max, that are as different as daylight and dark.
Alex is outgoing, an athlete, and popular at school. Max is more introverted and is having some personal issues as the story begins. Mary Beth is a devoted mother with her own landscaping business and Glen is an eye doctor.
Everything seems just picture-perfect, with normal family issues when raising children. Subtle changes begin when Ruby lets her mom know she is breaking up with her boyfriend. Kiernan is someone she has known since early childhood and it is quite shocking that Ruby wants to be away from him. Things seem to escalate as Max begins therapy for depression and Mary Beth’s attention is focused more on him than anything else. Subtle hints at what is looming might have been there for her to see, but ultimately the tragic events play out in an act of violence that leaves everyone reeling. The emotions of this book are raw and hard to read. However, the author is mesmerizing in the soft prose and the descriptions of what happens to this family.
Mary Beth: I have two selves now, too, the one that goes out in the world and says the right things and nods and listens and even sometimes smiles, and the real woman, who watches her in wonder, who is nothing but a wound, a wound that will not stop throbbing except when it is anesthetized. I know what the world wants. It wants me to heal. But to heal I would have to forget…
Five+ stars for this one. It is a book you will remember and aren’t those the best ones?
All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
I am glad I decided to read this book! Here’s the background. A very wealthy family, Nina and Kirk Browning, and son Finch find themselves in a dilemma. Finch has attended a party (he’s a senior in high school) and taken a photo of a young girl (Lyla). The photo shows her partially nude body in a compromising position and Finch proceeds to send the image to some friends.
It doesn’t take long for this to be a somewhat viral incident. Finch and Lyla attend an upscale private school and he must face the school’s administrator over the issue of violating their honor code. How will his parents react? How does Lyla’s father react? What is set in motion to change Finch’s future?
There are so many undercurrents going through this book and it is quite perplexing- eventually, you will wonder who to believe! So, what did I think? It was definitely a page-turner and I would recommend that you read it. But, there were moments that I was a little less than happy with certain characters and their responses to what was happening. It just seemed a little contrived. I would give it 4.5 stars because it was fascinating and I finished it quickly.
The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M. Graff
The story of the day is told in chronological order by the people that were part of it. There are firemen, policemen, eyewitnesses, survivors, and family of those that perished that tell about each part of the day. I am like you in being able to remember where I was and how I found out all that happened.
It is a moment we will likely always remember, very much like the assassination of JFK or the moon landing. I have watched movies and documentaries for many years- every year on September 11. I was very surprised at all the things I learned in listening to this book.
This book is different. There is just something extraordinarily compelling about hearing the voices of so many people. Even though you know the story you will be mesmerized by the intensity and the human quality provided by these story-tellers. Trust me, listen to this book! 5+ stars
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
This is one of the best books I have read in a very long time. This makes it the best of 2019!! It is another that I listened to and I would recommend that style of reading for this one. The narrator was excellent. It is 1961 in New Bremen, Minnesota.
The story involves the death of a child, the death of an adult, and a tragedy that occurs to the pastor’s family. The story is told by Frank who is looking back at this summer of 1961 when he was 13. The family includes Frank’s dad, a local minister, his mom, his younger brother, and his teenage sister. The sister is a gifted pianist that is tutored by a local man. The boys love to roam outside and go places their parents have told them to stay away from. This includes the railroad tracks. When a young playmate named Bobby, is found dead on the tracks the parents warn the boys again to stay away from the tracks. Of course, they don’t and soon after Bobby’s death Frank and his brother happen upon a dead man.
The boys take the story (or most of it) back to their dad and a friend of his, named Gus. Are the two deaths related? What about the Indian (remember this is 1961 and this term was commonly used) that the boys saw near the dead body? And then tragedy strikes again. The family must endure an unspeakable event and the boys are thrust into the middle of it. The author writes beautifully and I really enjoyed the descriptions of the antics of these two boys. They were expert eavesdroppers and always knew everything that was going on – despite their young ages.
This is a don’t-miss book! I found it by searching the Audible website for the best books to listen to and I am so glad I did! 5+ stars!
Definitely some must-reads on this list! I can recommend them all!
My rating system: 5 stars means perfection- the book was written well, held my attention, and I did not want it to end. 4 stars- the book was really good, but I had questions or concerns about parts of it – usually the way it ended stupidly. 3 stars- the book was okay, but I just didn’t like it much. 2 stars- I skimmed most of it. 1 star- I could not finish it.