To say that this has been a difficult year for me (and my family) would be an understatement. One of the things that has gotten me through are some of the wonderful books I’ve read this year. They’ve made me cry, laugh and think.
One book that I have not yet finished (hence it’s not on this list) is “Imaginable: How to Create a Hopeful Future―in Your Own Life, Your Community, the World” by Jane McGonigal, which I purchased in our local bookstore (shoutout to The Collective Bookstore) so that I could make notes on the pages. It has helped stretch my imagination and start to figure out what my future might look like. (And I’m pleased to say that many of the “exercises” she asks you to try, I had already started to do.) After this strange, stressful and sorrowful year, I need hope in my future and this book is helping me move toward that.
But now on to the best books I’ve read this year. And since 13 is actually a lucky number for me, that’s how many you’ll find. If the book is available through the Verona Public Library, I’ve linked to the print copy; many also have ebook, audiobook and large-print options through the library.
“True Biz” by Sarah Nović: An amazing story and look into the deaf community. I was surprised at how much I DIDN’T know. (And I THOUGHT I knew more than the average person.) Eye-opening for me and made me realize my own biases and ignorance. Go in with an open mind and perhaps walk away with a different mindset.
“Mad Honey” by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan: I read this one BEFORE it earned the “distinction” of being banned from Florida’s Martin County libraries. I’ve read A LOT of Jodi Picoult. Not all, but A LOT. (I had previously not read anything by Jennifer Finney Boylan) Of all the books I have read, I can think of only one or two that DID NOT move me or make me think deeply about a subject. This book did both. It moved me to tears and I will continue to think about the characters and the subject for a long time. (I am purposely not saying what the subject is to hopefully allow readers to go in with no preconceived notions).
“Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers” by Mary Rodgers and Jesse Green: This was the BEST memoir/autobiography/whatever the heck you want to call it I have ever read. I am extremely jealous of Jesse Green, who got to know the wonderful Mary Rodgers and whose footnotes are NOT TO BE MISSED. (You MUST read them; I don’t care what a pain it is to flip back and forth; it is worth the effort.) What a wonderfully complex woman Mary Rodgers was…a sweetheart and a bitch and in this book (and I’m guessing in life) unafraid to tell it as she saw it. If you love theater, Rodgers & Hart musicals, Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, “Once Upon A Mattress,” Stephen Sondheim, “Freaky Friday” and “A Billion for Boris” (why don’t I still have my copies of these? I NEED to get them. I read them numerous times as a child.)…you MUST read this book. It is just so WONDERFULLY GOOD! I wish I had better words for it, but mine are not as fascinating and entertaining as Mary Rodgers and Jesse Green, so go find this and read it!
“Remarkably Bright Creatures” by Shelby Van Pelt: This is a wonderful book told from many different perspectives. And if you think letting Marcellus the octopus have his own say is silly, you’re wrong! Each “voice” is unique and you will come to care about each and every one. Who ever thought you could love an octopus so much?
“The Collected Regrets of Clover” by Mikki Brammer: EXCELLENT first novel. Who would have thought the story of a “Death Doula” (I didn’t even know it was a thing, and I am fascinated by it) could be so uplifting? I thought I might have trouble getting through this due to my mother’s own passing less than a year ago, but instead it made me feel good about what I did with the time I did have with her. (I read this prior to my father’s death this summer; reading it helped me with that as well.) Thank you Ms. Brammer.
“Maame” by Jessica George: Maddie, the main character in this novel and I have very little in common. She is a young woman from Ghana living in London; I’m much older and have always lived in NJ. However, I KNEW Maddie. I understood her. This beautiful and HONEST debut novel is totally relatable. It’s not necessarily about the color of our skin, or age or where we are from, but what drives us, and reaches across all borders.
“Sincerely Me” by Julietta Henderson: Start with a character that I didn’t think I would particularly like (Danny) and add in some equally “off kilter” characters that will make you wonder where this story is going. Don’t wonder…just go along with it all and in the end you may realize, like I did, that the imperfect family is sometimes perfect.
“Symphony of Secrets” by Brendan Slocumb: Giving a synopsis of this novel would be unfair. Don’t let anything you might read about this incredible historical novel influence you. Just sit down and read. I can almost guarantee that you will be angry and heartbroken as you let the symphony wash over and draw you in.
“Murder Your Employer: The McMasters Guide of Homicide” by Rupert Holmes: If you only know Rupert Holmes for “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” you are missing out. “Where the Truth Lies” will forever be one of my favorite books of all time. Although I was a bit off put at the beginning of the novel (A “school” for murder?), once I started down Holmes’ twisted path I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want this book to end, yet I rushed to finish because I couldn’t stop reading. Full of twists and turns; you can’t go wrong with Rupert Holmes.
“Killers of a Certain Age” by Deanna Raybourn: Forget the chick lit; this story is full-on women of a certain age doing what they do best. As a woman of a certain age myself, I heartily approve of this novel and honestly wish I were more like them. I don’t necessarily hope for a sequel, but would love a follow-up. It is a reminder of the strength women have and gives new meaning to the lyric: “I am woman, hear me roar.”
“Somebody’s Fool” by Richard Russo: The only thing that would make this book better would be if Richard Russo had signed my copy of this book. His stories are so well crafted. He makes you understand all of the characters; even the ones you hate. You understand why they do what they do, even if it’s awful. His characters are true and real and perfectly imperfect. There is a reason he won a Pulitzer Prize (not for his Sully/North Bath novels): He tells stories of every man that every man can relate to. And if anyone from the Pulitzer committee is reading this review, you NEED to read this book and you need to give it consideration for the prize.
“Holly” by Stephen King: Would an annual book list be complete without a Stephen King novel? Stephen King is the consummate storyteller. (Did I really need to say that? The man is a legend.) While I am not a fan of all his work (although maybe it’s time I go back and give some of the stuff I have previously read another try…a “bad” Stephen King is better than a lot of what’s out there), I just finished “Holly.” It was yet another one that I couldn’t or didn’t want to put down. I had to, several times, because life…but it was so hard to do so. His tale was totally believable (there is no supernatural aspect…which makes the realistic story all the more horrific) and timely.
“Hello Beautiful” by Ann Napolitano: Ann Napolitano has a wonderful way with words and she can draw you into each character and make you understand (sometimes painfully) who they are and why they feel the way that they do. This is not just the story of William, who marries into the Padavano family, nor is it just the story of Julia, the woman he marries. It is the tale of all the sisters and their parents and more. Even the ancillary characters are so well fleshed out that you feel as if you know them. You will love these characters, but you will also feel frustrated by them (I’d say hate, but that’s not the exact right word.) This is a family saga that will envelope you; so sit back and let it.
And now, my bonus list: Books that are worth reading even if they didn’t make the top 13.
“My Name is Barbra” by Barbara Streisand: I like/love some of her music, but not all. I like/love some of her movies. I agree with her on some topics, but not all. More importantly, she has lived a LONG and fascinating life. (Which is why this autobiography is so long). It’s a LONG book, but very readable and enjoyable. You may look at its length and say it’s too much; it’s not. No matter what you think, she is an enthralling woman who has a lot of say. I’m so glad she did.
“Looking for Jane” by Heather Marshall: Don’t call this chick lit; women’s literature is much more like it. While fiction, I learned a LOT of new things (abortion not legal in Canada until the 1980s? REALLY?). The lives of three different women in different times and in different places in their lives is fascinating. Did the ending wrap things up a little too neatly? Perhaps, but this is still a very rich read and sadly more timely than ever.
“Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting” by Clare Pooley: Are you a commuter? Then this is perfect for sitting back (not necessarily on a train) and letting the character meet and evolve. If not, find a nook and just read. You’ll want to be part of this community that evolves over the pages. You’ll wish that you knew these people. I hope Iona is out there…and that one day I will sit across from her and gain some of her wisdom/advice. (Note: Iona and I are about the same age…I feel EVERYTHING she does.)
“The Sweet Spot” by Amy Poeppel: This IS chick lit and there’s nothing wrong with that. While not necessarily realistic, a reminder of the fact that families don’t have to be related and that caring for others is complicated, especially in the corner of the world that is known as Greenwich Village.
“The Lies I Tell” by Julie Clark: A really good read (worthy of the thriller genre) with REAL female characters. The relationship between Meg and Kat is complicated and the story has many twists and turns. You are rooting for both. Is the “bad guy” (in this case, “bad gal”) really bad? Who IS the villain? Read this and find out!
Happy Holidays and may 2024 be full of great books to read!