Happy 2018, everybody! Before I set my sights fully on the new year, I've got to take a look back at the best books from last year. Honestly, it was a rough year of reading and blogging for me. I don't have actual reviews written for my favorites, so this is as much a "reviewlette" post as it is a "best of" post. I encountered lots of DNF duds and a fair amount of books that I finished that left me feeling pretty "meh," but, in the end, I got more reading done than I expected and encountered a few gems along the way. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. The Tumbling Turner Sisters
by Juliette Fay - I read this waaaay back in the beginning of 2017, so I really have to reach back over the months for memories of it, but it was great. It's the story of the four Turner sisters whose mother transforms them into a vaudeville act when their father is injured on the job. I don't know how to describe it other than to say that this book is historical fiction at its most fun
. I loved getting acquainted with the vaudeville circuit through the Turner girls' eyes. They meet all kinds of people and find success they never expected and some romance along the way. To say that it's "fun" I don't mean to imply a lack of seriousness. As they rise to fame the Turners encounter poverty, gain new understanding of racism and discrimination, and are touched by tragedy, all of which add enough heft to story for it to be a truly satisfying read.
2. Someone Else's Love Story
by Joshilyn Jackson - Joshilyn Jackson has been waiting on my bookshelves a long time. I'm glad the randomizer finally helped me rescue her from the deep recesses of my shelves. Shandi Pierce and William Ashe meet during an armed robbery at a convenience store. She's a single mom who has convinced herself she's had a virgin birth, he's a scientific savant with a recent past filled with tragedy. She thinks that destiny brought them together, but there's much more to William Ashe's story than meets the eye. This book is hilarious in a totally effortless way, is full of lovable characters, and definitely was not the story I was expecting.
3. The Passage
by Justin Cronin - This is as good as everyone has been saying for years now while I've been waffling over attempting it due to its enormous size. I'm a sucker for dystopian/apocalyptic stories, and this one is a champion of the genre. It reminded me a bit of the feeling of reading The Stand
, terrifyingly possible, fascinatingly written, weaving between several stories of a nation laid waste by a misguided government experiment. It's always those misguided government experiments, isn't it?
4. A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens - Be still my heart! I re-read a book. I'm not really good at Dickens' full length works - the ones I've read drag so horribly in the middle - but I'll always have a soft spot for A Christmas Carol
. There's just something about the idea of Christmas that Dickens preaches in this book that always gets me, more so now that I'm a crusty old grown-up more often tempted to be Scrooge-y over the holiday. It seems to grow a little more humorous, a little more serious, and a little more relatable every time I read it.
5. A Piece of the World
by Christina Baker Kline - (Sorry, this one is super long.) I have the hardest time writing about the books I love the most. Usually, when I truly love
a book it's because I'm so engaged on an emotional level with it that I can't disentangle myself from it long enough to give people a reason to like it that isn't totally unique to my own psyche. So it was with this book which was my favorite among favorites
. In it, Kline imagines the life of the subject of one of Andrew Wyeth's paintings, Christina's World
. My heart broke for proud Christina, crippled at a young age by polio, whose determination not to give into the pains of her failing body leaves her unwilling to accept help or pity but also desperately limited by the path she has chosen. This isn't a cheery book. It's a hard to look at a character whose lot in life is often frustration, humiliation, and heartbreak as the able bodied people in her life come and go while she is consigned to a life of difficulty, a life that misses out on so much a "normal" life would offer. Kline's talent in making me care so much
for this proud, sometimes selfish, sometimes downright ornery character imprisoned by a world both of her own and her disability's making, is what makes this book shine. A few times during the reading, I found myself worrying over the ending. How can this end without doing a disservice to the character and the rest of the story? How can it end without being too trite or just too depressing? I need not have worried. The ending strikes the most pitch perfect of notes between bitter and sweet, revealing a life that is so much more than the sum of its parts and inspiring that much more love for both the painter and his subject.
6. The Bean Trees
by Barbara Kingsolver - If this is Barbara Kingsolver's debut (er, I think it is, actually), then I can't wait to read more of her recent work. I fell in love with the plucky, courageous Taylor Greer from page one as she abandons her Kentucky home to move west to Tucson, Arizona desperate to evade a certain fate of wedlock-free baby-raising. This is the fastest reading essentially plotless book you'll ever meet, filled with excellent characters from Taylor herself, her worrywart roommate Lou Ann, no-nonsense Mattie down at Jesus is Lord Used tires, a pair of Nicaraguan refuges, and baby Turtle who is obsessed with vegetables. These folks are irrepressible and jump off the page. I'll be back for more Kingsolver, for sure.
7. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving
by Jonathan Evison - This one snuck in just under the wire as I closed it with satisfaction on the afternoon of New Year's Eve. If this blurb looks familiar to you, then you must follow me on Litsy. ;-)
The blurb on the front cover of one edition calls it "stealthily powerful," and truer words were never spoken. Ben Benjamin and the collection of misfits who accompany him on his journey from abject tragedy to redemption and healing are sometimes pathetic, often hilarious, and ultimately (unexpectedly) heartwarming.
by Helen Humphreys (where the writing stuns, but the plot's cheap twist knocks it down a star), Some Girls Are
by Courtney Summers (that captures high school hell so very, very terrifyingly...which also held it back from being fully a favorite) and The Train of Small Mercies
(for being a book I thought I would DNF but ended up being a solidly likeable book, if not quite best of the year material)
Linking up to the last prompt of #AMonthofFaves