It doesn’t feel like a full year has passed since I put together my Dazzling Dozen Reads of 2015, but here we are, almost at the end of December once again.
This year, I developed a ruthless streak with regards to books. If something didn’t grab me and pull me in, I put it down and moved on. I really hate to do that. I always want to give a book a chance to be great, but there are so many wonderful books I want to read, I didn’t feel I wanted to invest time in something I wanted to love but couldn’t.
As you can see, I found plenty to love.
On this year’s list, you’ll find several books that received a lot of buzz and lived up to their hype. I also dug out some classics and beloved titles to either revisit or read for the first time. And I found some wonderful surprises in the “Local Authors” section of bookstores I visited on my travels. I also read more non-fiction than usual this year, and found some gorgeous reads there.
Here are the books that found their way into my heart this year:
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
I laughed, I cried, I saw the movie on a flight and laughed and cried all over again in public. This book is funny, heartwarming, and ridiculously romantic, but it pulls no punches when digging into the timely issue of euthanasia and the right to die. I fell head over heels in love with hapless Lou and steely Will, so much so that I resisted seeing the movie for months after it came out. I wanted to keep the story in my mind and heart just as it was in the book.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
I finished this book and immediately wanted to read it again to pick up all the clues I’d missed the first time. It’s a tangled tale of a Chinese-American family’s disintegration after the disappearance of their middle daughter. The story hops back and forth in time, slowly building a complex picture of their family dynamic, as each character dissects his or her decisions, wondering if they could have changed the story’s outcome. It’s tangled and brilliant, and well worth the read.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
I’m a big fan of Kate Atkinson and this, her debut novel, is a personal favorite. It’s a family tale, spanning several generations, told through the eyes of the youngest daughter, Ruby Lennox. Through Ruby’s story, we jump back and forth in time to learn the twisted history of the Lennox family, which seems to have skeletons in every closet. Even Ruby’s young life is colored by family secrets, which slowly reveal themselves as the book unfolds. It’s a dark, funny, tragic, and complex book that belongs on my short list of books I could read over and over again.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
I listened to this book on audiobook, but wish I’d read it instead. I think I lost something in the listening. The book is framed by the story of an elderly woman finding a World War II identification card, the forged papers of the notorious Nightingale. As she decides whether to attend a celebration honoring France’s war heroes, and risk revealing a long-hidden secret, she tells us the story of two sisters in occupied France. While the older sister, Vianne, does whatever it takes to keep her family safe, the younger Isabelle becomes involved with the resistance, guiding downed allied airmen over the mountains to safety.
Strangely, this was a book I enjoyed reading, but didn’t fall in love with it until after I’d finished and the pieces of the story had all slotted into place. It’s a tragic, yet inspiring story of the sacrifices made by women during the war.
Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt
Sometimes I choose a book for the story and sometimes for the author. This book falls into the latter category. I saw an interview with Caroline Leavitt and was completely taken by her frank discussion about her writing career, how she’d enjoyed great success with her first two books, suffered a string of disappointments, but kept on writing until she once again found success. She was funny and achingly honest, so I had to read her work.
Pictures of You is the story of a woman, running away from her marriage, who befriends a widower and his young son after she is involved in the accident that killed his wife. It’s a story of grief and forgiveness (topics of which I’m particularly fond) and how well we really know the people we love. It’s heart wrenching, frank, and lovely. I have two more of Leavitt’s books in my stack for this year.
Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
I discovered this book in a wonderful bookstore on Bainbridge Island, WA. Set in the sailing world, it’s really a story about family and expectations. There’s a wonderful cast of characters and the writing is scrumptious. When I finished it, I was desperate to find someone else who would appreciate it. I ended up giving it to my husband’s boss, who also loved it.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
I always loved the BBC series with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews, so after watching it again recently, along with the recent movie adaptation, I decided I should read the book. It is a delicious story of family, love, belonging, faith, and memory, filled with Waugh’s exquisite writing and dry humor.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
I’d heard so much about this book and now I understand what the fuss is all about. It’s the story of an elderly curmudgeon, slowly making amends with a long list of people who’ve wronged him. The writing is simple and crisp, but what makes this book so endearing is the author’s use of backstory to illuminate this otherwise unlikeable character, so that I couldn’t help but fall in love with him. I cried at the end of this one, too.
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
I loved McLain’s The Paris Wife and this book, the fictionalized story of pioneering aviator, Beryl Markham, was its equal. I was immediately pulled into the world of colonial Africa, a girl born out of time and place, and her struggle to forge her own path. I loved this book so much, I wrote an entire post about it: Beryl Markham: A Woman Ahead of Her Time.
My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni
I’m not usually much of a mystery reader, but the cover of this one caught my eye and it came with a great staff recommendation write-up. It’s the story of a woman’s 20-year-long obsession with uncovering the truth about her sister’s murder. Another twisted tale of secrets and lies in the aftermath of tragedy. It has a great array of quirky characters, lots of twists and turns, and the murder bits aren’t too graphic for those of us with overactive imaginations. I’m also a sucker for the Pacific Northwest setting.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi
This book is stunning. That’s the only word I can find to describe it. 36-year-old Paul Kalinithi is reaching the end of his arduous medical training when he is diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. This memoir, published posthumously, charts his journey from neurosurgeon to patient and how his experience changes his understanding of his own work and of what gives life meaning. It was another tear-jerker for me.
H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
This is a beautiful book with an interesting structure. It’s a memoir of the author’s experience training a falcon as an escape from the grief of her father’s death. It’s a fascinating story, with a really interesting use of history to give insight into the world of falconry. But at its core, it’s the story of a woman coming to understand herself. The writing is gorgeous, the settings very familiar to me, and her descriptions of the natural world are breathtaking.
After This by Claire Bidwell Smith
I first picked up this book as research for A Strange Companion, after attending a book event with the author. Part memoir, part research project, part spiritual odyssey, it’s the story of the authors quest to come to terms with the death of her mother and find answers to what happens to us after we die. It’s funny, moving, and absolutely fascinating. It also makes my “read again” list.
Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert writes frankly and with her trademark humor about the creative process and the life of a writer. She shares some wonderful stories and philosophies about how ideas find a creative outlet and how her writing has kept her going through the rough patches in her life. I bought the audiobook and have been listening to it over and over again, whenever I need to be reminded of why I write. I’d recommend it even if you’re not pursuing a creative life.
So, those are my favorites for this year. I’d love to hear which books found their way into your heart this year.