I read 30-plus books in 2018. I relied on many different sources to pick them: suggestions from friends, selections of my local book club, recommendations by book critics and reviews in Bookmarks magazine to name a few. Here are my favorites in no particular order.
The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott features an order of nursing nuns in 1950’s New York. Nuns have always fascinated me, probably because I attended parochial schools most of my education. To this day, my wardrobe palette reflects years of wearing blue uniforms (apparently blue is the favorite color of the Virgin Mary). I approached The Ninth Hour with some trepidations because I thought the novel might belittle nuns and their lifestyles. Instead the novel celebrates The Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor. The good sisters provide shelter to the main character, a pregnant woman whose husband just committed suicide. I loved this book and its gentle tone even when dealing with religious values and mores of the era.
Circe by Adeline Miller. Who knew a novel featuring the trials and tribulations of a mythological Greek goddess could be such a good read? I loved Circe’s strong character and her interactions with other gods and goddesses as she copes with her exile from Mt. Olympus. She is one strong woman; as Ron Charles of the Washington Post writes: “The archeological evidence is sketchy, but the first pussy hat was probably knitted by Circe.”
Sun Burn by Laura Lippman and The Dry by Jane Harper. I love mysteries and my standards for them are high. I want suspense throughout and an ending I can’t figure out. Sun Burn and The Dry meet both criteria. Sun Burn is set in a small town in Delaware near the Atlantic Ocean. Every year since 1985, I have joined 7 other girlfriends for a weekend at the beach. We drive though small towns in Maryland and Delaware to get there so a beach related mystery by a favorite author attracted me like a moth to a flame. I was not disappointed. The Dry takes place in a more distant setting: a parched farming town in Australia. The main character Aaron Falk returns to his home town at the request of his childhood friend’s father. The father wants Aaron, now a federal agent in Melbourne, to look into this son’s death. Naturally, what seems obvious is not and the twists and turns kept me guessing until the end. Keep a glass of water nearby when you read The Dry; you might get thirsty in the arid landscape.
The Ghostwriter by Robert Harris was written ten years ago. A reader of Bookmarks magazine picked it as a favorite mystery so I gave it a try. I enjoyed it. A British Prime Minister (a thinly disguised Tony Blair) hires a ghostwriter to complete his memoir. Dead bodies start littering the New England landscape, where the prime minister is holed up. The ghostwriter becomes sleuth. Suspicious deaths? Conspiracies? An ending that surprised me? What’s not to like?
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel. This really IS an extraordinary true story. Christopher Knight disappeared into the Maine woods in 1986. He stayed there for the next 27 years, living in a tent and raiding nearby homes and cabins for food and camp supplies. He was finally caught while breaking into a community building. Knight is not a sympathetic character (in part because he NEVER ONCE CALLED HOME TO TELL HIS MOTHER HE WAS ALIVE!!) but how he eludes capture and survives three decades alone in the woods is absolutely fascinating.
Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig. A friend kept telling me to read this book but I declined for years. I read lots of book reviews and this title eluded me. Published in 2015, this is a tale of a young boy and his adventures in the 1950’s as he travels by Greyhound bus from Montana to Wisconsin and back. Sometimes the action gets a bit slow but all in all it is a wonderful adventure story, peopled with lots of interesting characters. I found this book by the late Doig a perfect antidote to the high tech, fast paced, cyber dominated world we now live in.
Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg. After the unexpected death of her 47 year old husband, Sandberg struggles with grief. Option B presents her thoughts on overcoming loss and hardships. I do not usually enjoy self-help treatises but this was chosen by my book club so I felt compelled to read it—or at least some of it (according to my Kindle, I read only 20%). It turned out to be a great choice for a book group discussion. Every member of our club has faced loss: whether it be the death of a spouse or a child or a parent. Sharing how we cope was wonderful and one of our best book club discussions.
Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley: A Novel by Hannah Tanti. I am not fond of guns. So my decision to read this book is surprising as the story line revolves around guns. The 12 lives of Samuel Hawley refers to the main character’s father surviving 12 different gun shots from 12 different skirmishes. This is not a particularly easy read but I enjoyed it. Loo, the daughter of Samuel Hawley, is such an interesting character. I really cared about her which is more than I can say about the main character in my least favorite books of the year!