My main requirements for a favorite book are that it be entertaining, thought-provoking, not too sad, well-written, compelling and have likable characters that I can get behind. Sometimes on this blog, and most of the time on my Instagram reviews, I rate books by ? (pizza slices!). One slice being a book that is completely not for me and five slices being one I utterly loved. I almost never rate books as a one because I feel I have to finish it to rate it, and I do DNF books if I am not enjoying them. Here is the breakdown of my rating system.
? 1 Slice = I read the whole thing it but really am not a fan and feel it is completely not for me.
?? 2 Slices = I do not like it but maybe it has certain aspects that I appreciate.
??? 3 Slices = I like this book and would recommend others read it.
???? 4 Slices = I really love this book and maybe there is just one or two small things that keep it from being an absolute favorite.
????? 5 Slices = This book has it all. It is well-written with a compelling and gripping story. I want to shout from the rooftops that everyone should read this book.
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I don’t really listen to that many books and looking at this list, I realized that four of the six are audio books. That could be because I spend a lot of time scrutinizing my audio book reading selections (even though you can return them, I am horrified at the thought of wasting an Audible credit). Equally possible is that I might just prefer to listen to a book on audio, and maybe I have not admitted that to myself yet? Either way, it is clear that a pattern is emerging.
Collecting my favorites in one place is always a little weird and scary for me (see this post on my all-time favorites.) I don’t know if it is just me or not but it almost feels like a list of my absolute favorite books is a little bit too personal to put out there. I don’t know if this is a silly bookworm problem or if others feel this way, but it bears mentioning. Also worth mentioning is that I do think that a book is more appealing depending on my mood. These selections might be favorites because I found them each just at the right time. Finally, I might let a book marinate for awhile and want to add it in later. So, this is where I add in my disclaimer about being free to add or subtract books from this list as time goes by. My end of year favorites list could differ a bit from this one.
Not all of these titles were released this year but all are relatively new releases that I read this year. I am extremely stingy with my five-slice rating, but below are the books this year (so far) that have earned this rating for me.
Daisy Jones and the Six (Audio): This is the first totally hyped book I have ever read that I found actually lived up to the hype. Reid writes this story through a series of interviews with the fictional 70s band “Daisy Jones and the Six” as they look back on their lives and their rise to fame. The effect of this writing technique (similar to the beloved VH1’s “Behind the Music”) is compelling and keeps you on the edge of your seat. From the creative process of writing and performing songs to the dynamics of the egos and relationships involved in a wildly popular band like this, I was completely sucked in to the story and along for the wild ride of partying, performing and just what it is like to live in the world of rock stardom.
Although there were parts of it I found to be unrealistic and not likely reflective of the wild life of the time, this did not take away from the story. Reid did a good job of weaving in the dangers and destructiveness of drugs and the partying life, while also creating flawed but likable characters to root for as they navigate their way through the rock and roll world of the 70s. Lovers of this book seem to unanimously love this quote from Daisy in the book:
“I had absolutely no interest in being somebody else’s muse. I am not a muse. I am the somebody.”Daisy Jones
People are fond of this one for obvious reasons as it is such a succinct way to convey the tenacity and ambition at the core of the main character, Daisy Jones. However, this was another quote from the book that really resonated with me, and illustrates another major aspect of the book which is how truly imbedded in their souls the music is to these characters.
“It was what I have always loved about music. Not the sounds or the crowds or the good times as much as the words, the emotions and the stories…the truth….that you can let flow right out of your mouth. Music can dig. You know? It can take a shovel to your chest and just start digging until it hits something.”Daisy Jones (on European Tour)
In the end, this book encapsulates all that I love in a book – it’s entertaining, well-written, moving, funny and immersed me completely in a world that I never expected I would love.
I Miss You When I Blink (Hardback): I totally fell for this book of essays and especially Philpott’s point of view. I felt that she outed many of my own inner fears and feelings, and I was in tears with gratitude for the validation that someone else also struggles with some of the same matters I do. It’s pretty amazing when you connect with a book on this level. There were many subjects she tackled that I appreciated, but I think her overall message about feeling unfulfilled even though she is generally successful and from the outside it looks like she “has it all.” From wanting to take a break from your life to moving cities in order to get a new start, she writes simply and hysterically about issues many of us face. And, as women and mothers, it is sometimes very hard to verbalize that we are not happy with our lives. We can love our kids and husbands and jobs and still need a change or a break. This is healthy and normal, so why is it so hard to admit out loud? She talks further about some of these subjects as a guest on this podcast.
I also adored the essays about her family pets (dogs), having a hard time making friends as an adult, leading volunteer organizations and efforts and the trouble with having to please everyone all the time and that challenging time when you are just out of college and trying to figure out what career or job you should choose.
Philpott is a talented writer that tackles all of this with humor and honesty. This book is less about giving advice and more about giving permission to feel like even though you might have achieved all that you ever hoped for, it is still ok to not be totally happy, fulfilled and at peace in your current life.
When You Read This by Mary Adkins (E-book): An epistolary novel told through emails, texts, blog posts and other correspondence, When You Read This reveals the last chapter in the life of Iris Massey. Dead at 33 from cancer, Iris leaves a note for her boss and friend, Smith, asking him to publish the online journal she wrote in her final days. With deep messages about grief, relationships and facing mortality, this book is a profound yet irreverent look at death and life.
The people Iris left behind are struggling. Struggling to deal with her death, the tumultuous events from their pasts and how to move forward in life without her. Death is not funny and in this book, Adkins does not try to make it so. What can truly be funny is life – and the coping mechanisms we use to deal with grief, trauma and abuse.
It is difficult to summarize this book adequately except to say that it is at once hilarious and heartbreaking. And from the words of Truvy, Dolly Parton’s character from the movie Steel Magnolias, “Honey, laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (Audio): In 1920s Oklahoma, members of the Osage Indian tribe, wealthy from their ownership of oil-rich land, started turning up dead. Called the Osage “reign of terror,” the FBI, then a fledging government agency lead by the infamous J. Edgar Hoover, was called in to investigate to bring the perpetrators to justice. Especially engrossing is the background of the lead FBI agent, Tom White, who is sent to Oklahoma by Hoover to investigate and build the Federal case. I listened to this one on audio and especially enjoyed the narration. Three different narrators were used, which was different but served this book well given that the book has three distinctive sections and each section has its own tone and feel.
In particular, Will Patton’s narration (he was the second), was spot on and gave the wild west Texas Ranger stories a completely authentic feel. Describing the murders and outlining the case as it unfolded, he added an eerie creepiness that had me startling and looking over my shoulder when I was listening while outside running.
Possibly the only minor flaw in the book was the slow build in the first few chapters which was necessary to lay out the story but my reading ADD kicked in quickly. I am so glad I stuck with it. The killings and crime scenes were gruesome and the community involvement in the exploitation and disgraceful treatment of the Osage Indians was shocking and sad. I confess I had little to no knowledge of the Osage “Reign of Terror” other than maybe a vague memory of it being mentioned very briefly in history class. I am glad to have read this book to know more about this part of our history, and I will be seeking out more to read on this subject and from David Grann.
The Lost Man by Jane Harper (Audio): This one is good for fans of a bit of slow build, atmospheric mystery/thriller. This is not normally a writing style I love but somehow Harper always manages to capture my attention. I listened on audio and truly think listening to an Aussie book through an actual Aussie voice is completely engrossing. Taking place deep in the Australian outback, this is the story of the Bright family. It begins with the discovery of a dead body. It’s Cameron Bright, one of three grown sons, who appears to have died of exposure nine kilometers from his working car full of supplies. So, what happened?
Brother Nathan who manages a neighboring property plays detective to solve the puzzling mystery of his brother’s death. What unfolds is part mystery and part unraveling of some interesting family dynamics and especially shines light on the reality of living in such a small and isolated community. The characters are my favorite blend of flawed and complicated with a bit of shady past events thrown in for good measure.
Extremely well-written, atmospheric and even a little creepy, this one keeps you guessing the whole way through. I don’t have very many “automatic buy” authors, but I will forever buy whatever Jane Harper writes.
This Much Country by Kristin Knight Pace (Audio): I am a sucker for anything about Alaska. Aside from its incredible beauty, there is something so fascinating to me about living day to day in an environment that is constantly trying to kill you. That is why as soon as I heard about this book by Kristin Knight Pace about her life there as a dog musher and living in a remote area near Alaska’s Denali National Park, I downloaded it almost immediately. I prefer to listen to nonfiction versus reading it so the audio for this one was truly perfect.
Narrated by Pace herself, this book was a really interesting ride through her early life (20s and 30s). A lover of the outdoors, she quickly moved to Montana upon graduating high school, getting married and working her way through college. When her young marriage fails, she is devastated and accepts an offer to go to Alaska to stay in a friend’s cabin for the winter and take care of his place and his team of sled dogs.
As Kristin recovers from the crippling rejection she feels from her divorce, she grows into a life in Alaska that she truly loves. Learning about mushing sled dogs and surviving in Alaska’s remote wilderness, she finds strength, peace and love. This is an emotional story of amazing bonds between dogs, especially working dogs, and their owners, tough sled dog races over remote country and profound healing.
As a woman, reading about another strong woman who triumphs over tragedy and hardship is always important and enjoyable but that was not why I loved this book. I truly loved Pace’s descriptive and atmospheric writing which immersed me in the story and helped me feel like I had a seat alongside her as she faced every obstacle with her amazing strength and grit, with Alaska’s stunning beauty and unyielding environment constantly looming in the background.
Also a lover of dogs, I delighted in the relationships she has with her dogs, laughing and crying as these creatures, as much her family members as her human brothers and sisters, display incredible strength, loyalty and athleticism on and off the trail. I would even go so far as to say much of this book is about the dogs as Kristin steps back and gives them a center stage role in the story. This one is a shoe-in for one of my favorite books of the year and I cannot recommend it enough especially for lovers of animals and the outdoors.