Time 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.