Saturday, December 10, 2011
Favorite Books, 2011
I'm such a book nerd, I write down my impressions of the best books I've read on index cards to keep in an alphabetized file, giving me plenty of access for writing projects, etc. This practice goes back to second grade, where Mrs. Palmer, one of my favorite teachers at Floral Park Bellerose Elementary School, rewarded us with stickers for our index card lists of books we had read. I also found this useful for readers' advisory work in public libraries. I also keep electronic files of all the books I've reviewed for Library Journal. Without further ado, here is my list of favorite novels read during the year 2011, (some published in 2010):
Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson. A British woman wakes up every day not recognizing her husband or home until a doctor suggests she start keeping a daily journal which she keeps hidden from her husband. Amnesia done well –- full of suspense.
Happy Now? by Katherine Shonk. Claire Kessler, artist and home stager, recovers after her husband’s Valentine’s Day suicide. A believable portrait of grief and healing.
Emily Alone by Stewart O’Nan. A widow’s solitary life, full of small epiphanies and hard-won wisdom. A literary delight.
Friendship Bread by Darien Gee. Three women bond in a new friendship based on a pass-along Amish bread dough starter shared with their Illinois town. Feel good fiction, recipes included.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Victoria Jones, freshly emancipated from the foster care system, sleeps in a public park and grows a small garden. Her love of flowers becomes her career path, but she faces many demons along the way. An intense first novel.
Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell. When her father dies, Margo Crane quits school and learns how to survive living alongside a river in rural Michigan. She becomes a sharpshooter, but is much less on target with interpersonal relationships. A tour de force novel of gritty self determination.
Remember Ben Clayton by Stephen Harrigan. After losing his son in World War I, Texas rancher Lamar Clayton decides to commission an artist to make a memorial sculpture of his son. Sculptor Francis Gilheany and his daughter Maureen start the commission, but run into many complications and emotional minefields. A literary masterpiece with much gravitas.
South of Superior by Ellen Airgood. Waitress/artist Madeline Stone moves from Chicago to Upper Peninsula Michigan, the place where the mother who abandoned her grew up. A quirky book full of wonderfully drawn, idiosyncratic characters.
To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal. Film editor Judith Whitman tosses aside her hectic, stale life for periods of contemplation that eventually send her on the road back to Nebraska, in search of Willy Blunt, her first love. Their unfinished business runs deep, resulting in a haunting, elegiac novel. One reader on Amazon compared this book to The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, and I thought that was an apt comparison.
The Widower's Tale by Julia Glass. When Percy Darling, a retired librarian/Luddite curmudgeon living outside of Boston, rents his barn to a group who want to start a private school and starts a new romantic relationship, his life gets a lot more complicated. Add in one daughter who is a workaholic doctor, her clueless, always floundering sister and a beloved grandson flirting with eco-terrorism, and you’ve got a compelling novel full of complicated relationships.