It’s the end of the year, and you know what that means: It’s roundup time!
This year I read about 50 books, cover to cover. They are about half fiction, and half non-fiction. This week I am sharing the Top 10 fiction books that carried me away from it all. Next week, I’ll be back with my Top 10 non-fiction books!
FICTION: TAKE ME AWAY!
I have a very strong type when it comes to fiction. I almost exclusively read fiction books with characters who are unafraid of who they are (or become so throughout the plot), with a deeply moving emotional center where everything works out in the end. They are often stories of found families, self-acceptance, and letting go. All of these that I’m recommending will provide you with some narrative transport, taking you away from your life and into the life of other remarkable people.
Lessons in Chemistry: This is the book I read last week, and I’m still feeling the ache that comes from missing a book that you want to live in for a little while longer. Set in the 1950s and features a fiercely feminist woman scientist who never buys into how other people see her (to her early detriment and her ultimate triumph). This book will warm you like oatmeal on a cold day. Plus, it’s funny!
The Midnight Library: I read this book last year, too, but I felt like I had to read it again. It’s a book about possibilities, as a depressed woman has the chance to see other possible lives. And it’s a book about acceptance, as this same woman comes to realize that it’s not about the circumstances but instead about believing in herself.
The Lincoln Highway: Amor Towles has done it again. I LOVED A Gentleman in Moscow, and the Lincoln Highway has the same grounded and accessible way of telling remarkable stories. This one tells a story of how family and friendship can give you what you need instead of what you think you want.
Remarkably Bright Creatures: Good heavens. This book captivated me from the very first page when a Giant Octopus became the wise and omniscient narrator. And then it dragged me in, further and further, as each and every character was introduced. This is one of those books where the stories seem utterly unconnected in the beginning, but as the plot progresses, you see how they come together into the rich fabric of found family.
The duo of Nina George Books, Little Paris Bookshop, and the Little French Bistro: Some of my favorite books are books of reinvention; those where someone walks away from their current life entirely, running away without any real idea where they are headed. Out of that decision emerge friends, work, intrigue, romance, and (always) an ultimate acceptance of their true selves. Nina George has written two of the best of these kinds of books that I have ever read.
Finley Donovan is Killing It: This book is largely fluff… but I just eat it up! Finlay is a murder mystery writer who is down on her luck. Then, in a twist that we somehow totally buy, she “accidentally” gets hired as a hitman. I was really unsure how this book was going to resolve without Finlay in jail (thereby violating rule number one: it has to work out in the end), but it does. This one has a feisty sidekick and some truly terrible supporting characters. It’s the first of three books, and I’ve read the two that are available now. The third has been pre-ordered and will arrive on my kindle on January 31st.
Other Birds: This book is a lovely combination of just enough magical realism alongside a story of found family and reinvention. A quirky apartment building set on an island off North Carolina’s coast is the setting for a heartwarming tale. Great fare for the holidays.
My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry: If you haven’t read a Man Called Ove, you should read that first. But then, come back and read this one. As a little girl struggles to make peace with her Grandmother’s death, she is sent on a scavenger hunt to make her Grandmother’s amends. Each new person helps to re-construct her life and shows her that even though she has lost her favorite person, she has everything she needs.
Naomi Novik’s Schoolomance books, A Deadly Education, The Last Graduates, and The Golden Enclaves: You have to squint a little bit to realize that these all work out in the end. And yet, they are captivating and thought-provoking. Written by the author of Spinning Silver and Uprooted (two books that I’ve recommended before), these books take place in a magical school. Think of a messed up and kind of horrifying Hogwarts. The main character is destined, by prophecy, to “bring death and destruction to the world” but is instead utterly committed to being a good, if incredibly cranky, person. The characters are rich, varied, and sympathetic. I bought the first one when it first came out, which means I had to suffer through a YEAR to get the next one and then ANOTHER YEAR for the final one. But YOU can read them all in a furious frenzy, which I recommend you do.
Christina Lauren’s Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating: OK, listen. I do love a cheesey romance novel. I became obsessed with Jane Austen in college because she’s basically the grandmother of the “smart and quirky woman falls for worthy, but initially off-putting partner” genre, and I have been consuming them like water ever since. This duo of writers, one named Christina and one named Lauren, write some of the BEST romance novels of this kind I’ve ever read. This one, in particular, had me cackling out loud. The main character (Hazel) is one of the best-ever examples of a woman who isn’t like other people and is entirely ok with it. (Much like Elizabeth in Lessons in Chemistry, actually.) I have read every single one of their books (they are all available on Scribd, btw) and even the very worst of them (Something Wilder <-Do not start with this one) is pretty good. My only complaint? They are so addictively readable that I finish them in one to two days, and then I’m sad.
Books make great stocking stuffers and Hanukkah presents (for yourself?) and support people who are striving to share their Great Work with the world.