New York Times  Bestselling Author

Books We Loved in 2009

woman readingTime for a year-end wrap up of the stories that touched us most in 2009. I’ll start, and then I’d love to hear about your favorites. With the exception of The Help, these are not in any particular order.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett: Sometimes you simply want to thank an author for writing a book, and that’s how I feel about this one. It’s probably my favorite of 2009. This all-too realistic look at race relations in the early ’60s is full of heart and I loved the voices of the women. A great bookclub book.

Sweeping up Glass by Carolyn Wall (I listened to it on audio): Set in depression era Kentucky, this is a story of one woman’s simple yet extraordinary life. It’s Wall’s debut novel and her character, Olivia Harker, is real, imperfect, and sympathetic.

Run by Ann Patchett: An unusual story of African American twin brothers adopted by way-liberal white parents. As a writer, I was intrigued by the fascinating structure of the novel and the deep characterization. I loved how each character was immensely flawed, yet a good person in his or her own way.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay: Almost too painful for me, but I’m glad I read it. The story of one girl’s experience during the French round up of the Jews during World War II alternates with a current day story of a woman obsessed with trying to learn the girl’s fate. As I’ve found with my own books, it’s sometimes hard for a contemporary thread to compete with the more engaging story of the past, yet I found this a very engrossing and satisfying read.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield: A very unusual book you will either love or hate. The story, about a young woman biographer hired to write the biography of an elderly author, is hard to place in time, but that only adds to the dark, Gothic atmosphere. One of many things that impressed me was the link Setterfield drew between the protaganist and the woman whose story she’s telling–that link being twinship. Without that thread tying the women together, I don’t believe the story would have the same power.

Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos: I tend to like fairly serious novels, so this fairly light book is not my usual fare, but I loved it and will read anything de los Santos writes in the future. She is wryly funny, her characters are human and easy to identify with, and her message of love and family shines through.

The River Wife by Jonis Agee: I nearly passed this book by because I’d read some negative reviews on GoodReads.com, but I started it and was instantly caught up in the story. I love well-written, multi-generational tales that span decades, and I particularly loved the way Agee linked the tales from the different eras. I found the characters fascinating and am so glad I gave the book a try.

The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks: What an amazing book! The protagonist is a wonder herself, and watching her grow during the year the plague stole two thirds of her small English village was heartening and inspirational. As a novelist, I’m awed by the research that went into writing this book. Warning: it’s gory, but worth it.

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb: Okay, it’s really long and all over the place, but it’s Wally Lamb and that makes up for any flaws. Lamb moves from the Columbine massacre (a risky, but well-executed use of real life tragedy) to Katrina to women’s prisons to family secrets, and he takes over 700 pages to get from point A to point Z, but his characters are so fascinating that the pages flew. If you love a good saga, this is for you. If you want an author to get straight to the point, you may need to look elsewhere.

Tethered by Amy MacKinnon: A fascinating book. MacKinnon took a rather simple, almost trite, mystery and lifted it up through her stunning writing and the creation of an unforgettable and (almost) entirely sympathetic central character. The character, one of the most complex ever to grace the page, is an undertaker, and my skin crawled at times during the book, but I kept turning the pages and was glad I did. As a writer, I was floored by MacKinnon’s use of description. I don’t like a lot of detail when I read, but MacKinnon’s judicious use of detail–especially in the way it helped me understand the characters–was spot on.

So there you have it. My faves for 2009. I’d love to hear what books touched you the most this past year.

28 Comments

  1. Gina on December 18, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    To name a few….my favs for 2009 are…

    The Help by Kathryn Stockett
    The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
    Same Kind of Different as Me by Hall and Moore
    The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
    Rainwater by Sandra Brown
    Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult
    Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

    and of course, Secrets She Left Behind (you may have heard of this author 🙂 – she’s pretty cool)

  2. Ronnie on December 18, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    My problem is I don’t remember which year I read what, so I refer to my Kindle since I got it in March of 2009.

    Aside from your books:

    The Help was by far my favorite and may win out for the best book of the last several years (aside from your books)

    Still Alice
    Those Who Save US
    Sarah’s Key
    The Weight of Silence
    Black and White by Dani Shapiro

  3. Denise on December 18, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    I’m so glad that a few of your faves were books I recommended. 🙂 I read them in 2008 so I can’t list them, unfortunately! I HAVE to read The Help next, though!

    Ronnie, I read ‘Those Who Save Us’ last December which began my year-long journey of WW2/Holocaust books in 2009 (which you may note below…lol). I am currently reading ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ by Diane Ackerman.

    Some of my 2009 faves were:

    Secrets She Left Behind by The Divine Ms. Chamberlain
    Sarah’s Key – Tatiana de Rosnay
    City of Thieves – David Benioff
    While I’m Falling – Laura Moriarty
    This Is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Tropper
    Skeletons at the Feast – Chris Bohjalian
    All But My Life – Gerda Weissmann Klein
    Blood and Banquets: A Berlin Social Diary – Bella Fromm
    The Kommandant’s Mistress – Sherri Szeman
    A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City – Anonymous
    The Berlin Diaries, 1940-45 – Marie Vassiltchikov
    My Enemy’s Cradle – Sara Young

  4. sharon on December 18, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    Hi Diane,

    With three wild children, I don’t read like I used to, but I did manage to get through Belong to Me, which is on your list. I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though it was lightweight.

    So nice to be reconnected with you!

  5. Jo Lawson on December 19, 2009 at 1:29 am

    I loved all the Diane Chamberlain books I read, The Bay at Midnight was my favorite! I was a latecomer, I probably read 10 of your books this year.
    Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Stout
    13th Tale Diane Setterfield
    Awaiting Your Reply Dan Chaon
    All the Knitting Club Books by Kate Jacobs
    Firefly Lane Kristin Hannah
    You Belong to Me Maria Del Santos

  6. Diane Chamberlain on December 19, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Thanks for sharing your faves from this year. I’m adding them to my to-be-read list. Sharon, I can imagine what things are like at your house–very happy! and Jo, I’m so glad you discovered my books. And Denise…will you continue your WWII reading into 2010?
    Ronnie, I read Still Alice on your recommendation and thought it was really good. . . but it freaked me out. =:-0

  7. Margo on December 19, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    I might have a few listed I read at the end of 2008 but here are a few that come to mind:

    SECRETS SHE LEFT BEHIND, by phenomenal Diane Chamberlain
    THE DEEP BLUE SEA FOR BEGINNERS, Luanne Rice
    THE CASTAWAYS, Elin Hilderbrand
    THE BEACH HOUSE, Jane Green
    TRUE COLORS, Kristin Hannah
    THE TWILIGHT SERIES (All 4 BOOKS), Stephenie Meyer
    THE HOST, Stephenie Meyer
    EAST HOPE, Katharine Davis (LOVED THIS!!)
    SO HAPPY TOGETHER, Maryann McFadden
    THE CHESAPEAKE BAY SERIES (3 BOOKS), Sherryl Woods
    THE LOVELY BONES, Ann Sebold

    I quess THE HELP should be on my c-mas wish list?…all of you sound like it’s an incredible novel…since Gary’s looking for another few ideas I’ll tell him about this one.

  8. Sharon on December 19, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    In no particular order:

    My sister’s keeper by Jodi Picoult
    Handle with care by Jodi Picoult
    The secret life of CeeCee Wilkes by Diane Chamberlain
    Water for elephants by Sara Gruen
    The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf
    April & Oliver by Tess Callahan

  9. Ann on December 19, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    The Help by Kathryn Stockett
    The Unseen by Alexandra Sokoloff
    Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult
    The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
    In The Woods by Tana French
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Seig Larsson
    Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
    The Spire by Richard North Patterson
    Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo
    The Best of Times by Penny Vincenzi
    Henry’s Sisters by Cathy Lamb
    and last but certainly not least
    Secrets She Left Behind by Diane Chamberlain

  10. Barbara Fisher on December 19, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Lark and Termite – Jayne Anne Phillips
    A Good Fall – Ha Jin

  11. Diane Chamberlain on December 19, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    I’ve had Ha Jin on my TBR pile forever. Thanks for the nudge.

  12. Ronnie on December 19, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    Diane, I keep telling myself there is a difference between forgetting where I put my car keys or where I parked, or that I couldn’t find my Ipod because I put it in the freezer, and not being able to find my way home from up the block. That is my way of reassuring myself since I have been blessed to be going through this menopausal stage of life.

  13. Denise on December 19, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Diane, I imagine my WW2/Holocaust phase will extend into 2010 since ‘The Book Thief,’ ‘The Bronze Horseman’ and ‘Suite Francaise’ are sitting on the bedside table to be read after I finish ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife.’ Jenna Blum’s next book will be post-WW2 and will have a little in it regarding what happened to the two main characters in ‘Those Who Save Us;’ love to have follow-up! There is no shortage of books in this genre, and I just find it fascinating.

    Has anyone read Audrey Niffenegger’s newest, ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ yet? I have the ARC but haven’t read it….I actually have stacks of ARCS here to read…

  14. Ronnie on December 19, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    Denise, I thought Jenna Blum’s new book was about stormchasing?

    The Book Thief was wonderful, it takes about 70 pages to get into it but then you will not be able to put it down. I would have had that as one of my favorite of 2009 but I think I read it towards the end of 2008.

  15. Diane Chamberlain on December 20, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    Denise, I’d love to know what you think about Niffenegger’s latest. Reviews have been mixed, but I adored the TT’s Wife and want so much to love this one too. Ronnie, I have The Book Thief on audio. I just realized that I’m overwhelmed by all the things I want to read!!!!

  16. Martha O'Quinn on December 20, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Stockett’s The Help is on my bookclub’s review for January 2010. I read it some months ago and identified with it in a most personal way. My son was born in West Point MS in 1961. I developed a medical condition which required bed rest for the last four months of my pregnancy. We were barely able to make ends meet, lived in a small duplex with two bedrooms and one bath. We were blessed to find help within walking distance. Queen is the only name we ever knew her by but she cooked, cleaned and took care of our 17 month old daughter. We didn’t have fine things or entertain like the families in The Help, but Queen treated us as if we were all that and more. My husband was transferred to TN after the birth of our son and it was like leaving a member of our family in MS. Her last day in our home found all of us crying and her parting words were, “Miz Matha,(she didn’t pronounce the “r” in my name)if I didn’t have to look after my blind mother and asked to come to TN with you all, would you take me?” My husband, my mother who had come to help with the move, and yours truly all answered “yes” in unison. By the time her mother passed, she was saddled with grandchildren. One thing I still can’t believe, even though we paid her what she asked for, and struggled to do that – her salary for 5 1/2 days per week was $12.

  17. Diane Chamberlain on December 20, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    What a role Queen played in your family’s life, Martha, and you in hers. I bet you’ve wondered over the years how to find her again.

  18. brenda on December 20, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    I would like to have had “help” during my pregnancies-spent in hospitals and bed…my husband-at the time-was “the help’ when he was not at work…others in the towns where we lived shared by babysitting (with my son) while I was in with my daughter…I was bedridden the pregnancies from beginning to end with no family present.
    However-back to the books-I love all of the above but my two favorite authors remain D. Chamberlain and B. Delinsky.My next two Joanne Dobson and CarleneThompson. I read so many books that I cannot choose…but those that Margo chose also come close. Many of the bios/memoirs I read are on my list of the best…My all time favorite will remain Shakespeare’s plays-teaching them and reading them…

  19. brenda on December 20, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    P.S. Still Alice was difficult for me…esp. at my age…the Lamb book-too long and too much “chasing rabbits”…I can tell by Margo’s list that we like the same favorites…I also liked the Tana French…and I love Cathy Lamb…Liked Patchet but not as much as Bel Canto…did not get into Satterfield…Many of these Picoult, Lovely Bones, etc…I read before this year…

  20. brenda on December 20, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    The girlfriend is a living doll…
    All of you have a MERRY CHRISTMAS/HOLIDAY and NEW YEAR> My first group left today-the next on the 30th..it is wonderful-can’t wait until school is over to be home totally…What are some of your traditions with your families?

  21. Diane Chamberlain on December 21, 2009 at 12:26 am

    Glad you’re having such a good holiday, Brenda. We’ll have Christmas Eve with extended family (my son-in-law’s parents who have been so great about including John and me in holiday stuff), then we’ll have some time Christmas day with my grandsons (John and I read a book aloud–ZEN SHORTS by Jon Muth–and put it on a CD. I think we had more fun “performing” it than my grandson will have listening to it.) Then, we’re off to Topsail for a week. I’ve never been to the beach in December. Should be both cold and wonderful, and a chance for me to really make some progress on my book.

  22. Ann on December 21, 2009 at 9:10 am

    Diane, you will love the beach in winter. We spend a week at the Outer Banks in February and it is wonderful. The ocean is just as pretty and the sky is just as blue! The stores and restaurants are not busy. Sometimes the weather is cold but we have been there when it is warm enough for a walk on the beach in jeans and sweatshirts. All in all it is one of our favorite vacations – I think it will be one of yours also.

  23. brenda on December 21, 2009 at 10:59 am

    You will love the beach. We spent 2007 at my son’s condo on Miami Beach-he is not there now-he is in California…but it was fantastic…wonderful…fun…so great…Great weather…However, when I lived in S. Carolina, the beach was windy and cold…but still fun…We have a huge snow-enough for school to be cancelled today-unusual for us…teachers go tomorrow and then…a week or so off…great…

  24. Martha on December 21, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    We kept up with Queen through the neighbors on the other side of our duplex. You could see Queen’s house from ours. The last we heard from her was after her grands began living with her; our neighbors moved from the duplex into their first house and contact finally dwindled to silence from the neighbors, therefore from Queen. So sad!

  25. Margo on December 22, 2009 at 7:34 am

    Diane, I was wondering if you would spend some of the holidays at your Beach House…so glad you will be!!…I imagine TopSail is beautiful anytime of the year…the ocean is so wonderful. Gary and I use to visit Oregon’s Cannon Beach every winter and loved the solitude…would walk the beach with windbreakers and the mist on our face…would return to the condo and have a fire and read…the best of vacations…we will return one of these winters. I definitely want to see Topsail…between your wonderful descriptions and hearing of Ann’s vacations I want to see this lovely stretch of beach.
    Brenda, I’m so happy you love his girlfriend…she sounds wonderful.
    I want to wish everyone a very happy holiday and good New Year too.
    Also thanks for all the good book recommendations…I told Gary about THE HELP so I think there’s another gift under the tree that looks like another book…(I hope, I hope!!)
    The best gifts, other than family and friends, are books don’t you all agree?

  26. brenda on December 22, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    Margo-your husband is wonderful.
    Diane-enjoy the beach/ocean…wow…

  27. brenda on December 22, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    With the New Year coming, I will make a couple of resolutions. I happened (by chance) to read one of the older BLOGS-2007…that was the year I wrote, “I don’t eat sweets-gave them up to help my cholesterol…) Well…just so you know-I am back to eating them all the time. The cholesterol-didn’t help AT ALL…in fact the year that I quit-cholesterol went up. Thus, for the past 5 months, have been off caffeine again (I only drink caffeine in COKE anyway…don’t like coffee or caffeine tea…) Let’s see how long I last-the last time I did this-I made it 8 years…longer than the sweets (chuckle)…Now, I have been a vegetarian for 17 years and have never given in…that’s better…my NYear’s resolution-try to stay off caffeine and “eat all the sweets” I want. (chuckle) What about the rest of you???

  28. Diane Chamberlain on December 22, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Yay, sweets! Glad you can indulge again.
    I can’t think about NY’s resolutions yet. Need to get through this week first, but I’ll be sure to start a New Years Resolution post when the time comes. Good luck with the caffeine!

Leave a Comment