My list of top 10 books of the year has become an annual tradition. This year I had a problem getting ten on the list! I read over 100 books but the books of the year have to be the best of the best.
I read a lot more chick-lit this year than I normally do- probably due to being at home more. Romance books are frothy and fun and don’t take a lot of concentration-something I was sorely lacking during Covid and the election days.
I searched through all the books I reviewed this year and the top 10 books are featured on this very long post. They are in order from 10 down to the number 1 book of the year. (And yes, a couple of chick-lit books made the list!)
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The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal
The story of Edith and Helen, two sisters that do not communicate and haven’t for a very long time, is told in alternating point-of-view chapters. The two sisters took very different paths in life and are now in their sixties as this story begins.
Edith is a kind-hearted woman that bakes pies for a local nursing home. The nursing home has lines out the door of visitors that come just to get a piece of her pie. Sadly, Edith’s husband, Stanley, must retire due to an illness. Shortly after this, the two move to a neighboring town. Edith continues to work in the new town in order to pay their bills.
This is one of those books I did not want to end. I looked forward to reading it and knew I would miss the characters when it was over. I cried at the end for many reasons. Definitely 5 stars for this ‘how to brew beer’ fiction book.
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
This sweet little romance book will capture you from the beginning! Dannie is a lawyer that has just been in an interview for her dream job. Of course, she is asked where she thinks she will be in five years.
She expects to do well in her new job. She is also expecting her boyfriend to ask her to marry him. She has a wonderful best friend named Bella. All seems right in her world.
Then she wakes up in an apartment she does not recognize with a man she doesn’t know and it is five years later. How on earth did she get to this point? And why does she have some intense feelings for this man who is a stranger?
I think you will enjoy this book. It has some fun moments and some very sad moments. It might be a little unbelievable at times, but you will want to see it all play out. I gave it 4 stars!
The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate
The book is based on historical events and alternating sections begin with readings from newspaper ads about the lost friends. The friends were family members that were separated or sold away from their families during the days right before and then after the Civil War.
It is heart-wrenching and difficult to read, but Ms. Wingate weaves these stories into the lives of present-day people as well as following the story of three unlikely women that set off an incredible journey.
The author does an amazing job of weaving these two stories together and the ways in which the stories connect is wonderful. There are scenes near the end of the book that will bring tears to your eyes. I listened to this book and suggest you do, too. The narrators were perfect with their parts. They did more than read- they acted out their pages. It was superb! Five stars, absolutely.
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
What a remarkable premise this book has! The story of Oona begins on New Year’s Eve in 1982 when Oona is about to turn 19. She has big plans for the next few years including traveling and deciding to pursue a career in music.
Instead, she begins to feel faint, passes out, and wakes up to find that she is now 51. Her mother helps her understand that this happens every New Year’s Eve. Every year she wakes up at a different age.
This was quite a fun book. I also did not want it to end. I wanted her to keep leaping from year to year to find out all everything turned out. I am wondering if there will be a sequel! 4.5 stars!
Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson
I first became acquainted with this author when I read the book The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life, Freedom, and Justice by Anthony Ray Hinton. Mr. Hinton was an inmate who spent 30 years on death row in Alabama for a crime he did not commit. Bryan Stevenson is the lawyer that helped Mr. Hinton appeal his case and he was finally freed.
Mr. Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative. His legal practice became dedicated to defending people that were desperate, who were wrongly accused, or who were sentenced to unbelievable sentences for minor infractions. He also became a champion for countless young teenagers, as young as 13, who were tried and sentenced as adults. Many of these teenagers were sentenced to life in prison.
The book follows one man in particular, Walter McMillian. Walter was accused of a murder he says he did not commit. He had witnesses that could place him elsewhere and evidence that disputed that his truck was seen at the scene of the crime. Deep in southern Alabama, the sheriff and officers had “witnesses” that could place Walter at the scene and they testified to this. Walter was found guilty and was sentenced to death.
Along with Walter’s story are heart-breaking details about our justice system- or lack thereof. The chapters alternate with the cases, Mr. Stevenson’s life, and essays about the laws that make justice so difficult for people of color. Near the end, Mr. Stevenson encounters a judge that asks him when the lawyer will be arriving. He patiently lets the judge know that he is the lawyer. He makes the point that the prejudice shown to all people of color is something he continues to fight for himself and for his clients every day.
5 Stars. I listened to this book and would suggest you do also. The narrator is Bryan Stevenson.
Watchers by Dean Koontz
The story begins with Travis Cornell hiking in the woods and his path is blocked by a golden retriever. The dog will not let him continue hiking. Travis gives up and then takes the dog in. It is obviously a stray and he begins to care for the dog, noticing rather quickly that the dog is smarter than a normal dog. Travis names him Einstein.
As smart as Einstein is, it becomes certain that there is an underlying reason for it. It seems that a government facility nearby was experimenting with creating intelligent animals and Einstein was one of those victims. The animals have escaped and the bad news is, Einstein is the only friendly one. Also, one of those creatures, called the outsider, hates the dog and is intent on catching him, as are the agents from the genetic-altering laboratory and one crazed killer that somehow is part of the story.
Trust me. Read this one. It is a thriller full of twists and turns and a story of hope- that people will do the right thing. There were moments, near the end, that I was sad- the books you don’t want to end are always the best! 5 stars!
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
In the small town of Mallard, Louisiana , a ‘town not even on a map’ is a population that is unique. The town consists of generations of people whose great-grandfathers were slaves, but their uniqueness is the lightness of their skin. The people are prideful of this trait and yet many are still mired in the social problems of the era of the 1950s. In the middle of this are twins Stella and Desiree.
They grow up knowing they cannot mix with anyone having dark skin. When Desiree does, she is swiftly reminded by her mother that this is not allowed. The girls feel stifled in this community with its old-fashioned way of life and poverty, and in their 16th year, they leave Mallard. It is 1954.
The book spans a forty-year period with sections alternating from Desiree’s story to Stella’s and then to the two daughters of each woman. It is the accidental meeting of the two daughters that the real story begins to unfold. It is a story of racism, violence against women, mysteries, and relationships. Eventually you will know this is a story about mothers and daughters and the lengths one will go for each other.
This book was mesmerizing. It is beautifully written and meanders around the life events of the twins, their mother, and the two daughters. I loved this book! I think you will, too. I have left out a lot of the back-stories of each character. You will relish learning about their husbands, and the lives of their daughters.
Five stars for this book!
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim M. Richardson
The setting for this book is Appalachian Kentucky in the 1930’s. In the hill country an organization of librarians began a delivery service. They rode mules and horses to deliver books to families that needed something brought into their lives they would not have had otherwise. The Pack Horse Project hired single women and they became known as Book Women.
The book woman in this book is Cussy Mary Carter who is also called Bluet. The name was given to her because of a condition she has causing her skin to be blue. This is a congenital disease called methemoglobinemia. The disorder creates the blue skin coloring due to a loss of oxygen in the blood. In the community where Cussy lives she and her family are outcasts and are considered “colored”. They are treated badly and shunned, but Cussy Mary gets a job to deliver books because she loves to read herself.
The stories of the hill people will break your heart. The book was amazing and I gave it 4.5 stars!
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
This is a must-read. I listened to this one (with Audible) and it was narrated by the author. It was moving, emotional, frustrating, and beautiful. The love of Chanel’s family, her advocate, her counselor, her lawyer, and her boyfriend were all part of this story.
If you do not know the background, here it is. Chanel was in her early twenties when she attended a fraternity party with her sister, Tiffany. She drank and danced and acted ‘silly’- all to embarrass her little sister (not in a mean way). Late in the evening, Chanel went outside to get some air and find a bush to pee under and the next thing she remembers is waking up in the hospital.
Nurses told her she had possibly been sexually assaulted and the book deals with this story and the aftermath including a trial for the man.
Read this book. Better, listen to it. When you hear Chanel read her story, with her voice occasionally breaking, you will be moved to tears. 5+stars
My Favorite Book of the Year
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
It is 1932, in Minnesota. Odie O’Banion, age 12, and his brother, Albert, are sent to the Lincoln School. This is a place for orphans, mostly Native American children. Most of the Native American children have been forcibly moved into the “orphanage”.
Odie and Albert befriend one of the boys, named Mose. Mose is mute and the two boys teach him sign language in order to communicate.
The boys decide to escape the orphanage and travel to St. Louis where the boys have an aunt. They take a four-year-old named Emmy with them (for reasons I will not reveal). The children take off and travel down the Mississippi meeting lively characters along the way.
I doubt you will make it through without tears. 5+ stars for this one. I listened to this book and highly recommend that you do. The narrator was superb! I predicted this one would be on my end-of-year list and here it is coming in at #1!
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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. This might include the way it ended. 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.