This list was hard. The first 5 were easy...the next 5, agonizing. Ultimately, I had to cheat and make it a top 13, because honoring the top ten percent seems more fair in a year this full of goodies.
It's funny, some of the 4-stars made this list and some of the 5-stars didn't, but I'm not changing any ratings because, well, if a book impressed me all the way through, I'm not gonna give it 4 just because I'm not sure I'd read it again, but conversely, if a book has a specific flaw, I'm gonna restrict it even if most of it walloped me over the head with excellence.
I also excluded rereads, because reasons.
1. A Short Walk to the Bookshop - Aleksandra Drake
2. April and Oliver - Tess Callahan
I flailed about these pretty hard last week so I don't think I need to repeat myself.
3. From Sand and Ash - Amy Harmon
Rounding out the trio of titles that gave me a book hangover this summer, this is such a beautiful love story set against a backdrop of wrenching life-and-death stakes. Amid my Pushing Daisies rewatch, a "we shouldn't and/or aren't allowed to be together, and thus shouldn't touch even though we are obviously in love with each other and have been since we were young" theme -- especially when they actually CAN touch when times get dark and desperate enough -- was exactly what I craved.
4. Phantoms of the Hudson Valley - Monica Randall
A coffee table book filled with photo essays about historic and sometimes abandoned mansions -- especially one that was published 25 years ago, allowing closer ties to people who lived or worked in these mansions in their heyday -- is the most perfect book concept.
5. The Leaving - Lynn Hall
6. Appaloosa Summer - Tudor Robins
Flailed about these last week too.
7. Speed of Life - J.M. Kelly
A story of twin sisters in high school who decide to co-parent the baby one of them had (the father not being in the picture), their blue collar lifestyle is so vividly portrayed on every page. Including the way their own parents aren't great at the moneymaking (or parenting) and so they both work hard after school to juggle childcare and pay for the baby's expenses as well as their own, while trying to plan for post-graduation life. One of them wants to go to college for a degree in automotive restoration, in case this book wasn't unique enough, and the other is ready to step up her involvement in a family-owned restaurant to full time status/management immediately. I'm just in awe of it.
8. Hit the Road - Caroline B. Cooney
I love this book because at its heart, it's a comedic road trip to bust Grandma's friend out of a nursing home to go to their college reunion, and it's laugh-out-loud hysterical most of the time, but then out of nowhere it will torpedo you with wrenching commentary on the hardship of aging and the losses (people, objects, health, independence) that elderly people begin to stack up. It made me bawl more than once.
9. The Education of Ivy Blake - Ellen Airgood
Sequel to Prairie Evers, I just love the writing style of this sweet middle grade novel so much, about a very well behaved 5th grader who reluctantly leaves her best friend to move back in with her unpredictable (possibly mentally ill) and somewhat neglectful mother because she feels like it's her duty to not be a financial imposition on her friend's family, so much so that she even starts to pull away from her friend so as not to emotionally drag her down, either. The chapters sometimes read almost like short stories, so well put together are they.
10. Wired Man and Other Freaks of Nature - Sashi Kaufman
Just remind me to go here whenever I need a super-concentrated dose of two teenage guys who are best friends that support each other through a lot of hurt/comfort and crying. It's got a fair amount of crude language and sexual references, which I normally hate, but somehow it all works.
11. Escape - Barbara Delinsky
I had a hard time deciding between 4 and 5 stars for this, because the coyote symbolism was hella annoying and the ex-boyfriend such a cocky tool...but this book STUCK with me. I listened to it entirely on audiobook and so vividly felt like I was there. I loved the main character, her husband, their relationship, the B&B, the running away from her job to said B&B at the beginning of summer, and the animal sanctuary in the small town. And the narrator (Cassandra Campbell)'s voice was so soothing, too. Perfect for the story.
12. The Road to Enchantment - Kya McLaren
This is perhaps a strange choice, because I only gave it 4 stars and I stand firmly by that because the music angle somehow failed to make an impact on me, but the parts I liked were OUTSTANDING. I was so drawn into the setting and the life of this woman, who in short order inherits her mother's failing Southwestern goat-and-wine farm (a place she ditched the day after graduation without looking back), and finds out she's pregnant by the no-account loser boyfriend who just dumped her. I always love woman-starts-over-somewhere-new stories, but this one in particular stood out to me because those women are usually either under 30 or over 50, and this one is smack in the middle. You don't see a lot of 40-year-olds who still haven't gotten their life together.
13. The Whisper Man - Alex North
[click to reveal: no spoilers, just spoiler cut to save space]The way the author seamlessly inserted the possibility of ghosts into a serial child abductor/killer case was so impressive, because you don't usually get plausibly supernatural events in such realistic crime fiction.
But even more impressive was the father/son relationship. The kid has internalized the certainty that his dad is disappointed in him for talking to his imaginary friends and being weird / getting in trouble at school. The dad is still deeply missing his late wife and despairs that he's not as good of a parent as she was, especially now that he's doing it alone. Sometimes he loses his temper and shouts. But he also tries so very hard to reassure his son that he loves him no matter what - that getting upset doesn't negate that - and his son's well being is always the first priority on his mind.
I was afraid that this relationship was going to get the short stick behind that of the detective investigating the case, but no, Tom and his son take at least equal page time, if not the lion's share. And yet, the detective investigating the case turns out to have a really compelling story too, one that pays dividends in the second half. Even the history of the house they move to -- you know how I love a creepy old house! -- has multiple layers to said history, and they keep getting better.
P.S. For anyone who remembers me saying that I became aware of this book specifically because I went hunting for books to remind me of the father/son dynamic in "The Escape Artist," I absolutely got that level of Emotional Gold and am well chuffed about it.
Are any of these books you've also loved? Hated, even? Wanna screech feelings about The Whisper Man back at me (because I would LOVE THAT; just warn for possible spoilers in your comment subject line)? Comment below!
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