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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Novels: MY TOP FOUR PICKS THIS YEAR

As I might have mentioned earlier, my “best of” lists include mostly books that were published in 2009. However, by my own rules, they qualify if I first read them this year, and I want to give them their due praise.

There were a LOT of great books in 2009, but even as I looked back, there were four that rose to the top. If you’ve not read them, I highly recommend that you treat yourself. They are wonderful.

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett. A much-acclaimed book that had me from the first paragraph. I was reminded at once why I love books set in The South. It’s a place where you can feel the flies biting and the sweat beads pop out on your scalp the minute you step out the door. The voices have a rhythm all their own. Ms. Stockett captured the cadence and social climate of Mississippi in 1962, and even if you’ve never stepped a foot south of the Mason Dixon line, this book will make you feel you’ve had a personal tour.

It’s the story of three women: two black maids who work for white families, cooking, cleaning, raising their babies, and keeping their secrets. The third young woman is from a family who employs “help” and as she interjects herself into the lives and secrets of “the help” history is made and lives are changed. I didn’t want the book to be over, and it will be one I read again in 2010.

SUMMER OF LIGHT by W. Dale Cramer. I’m really not sure why I’ve never been introduced to this author, but at a friend’s recommendation, I ordered this 2007 release, and I’m so glad I did. It lands a spot in my top four. Here is the review I wrote for it earlier this year:

Mick Brannigan, a construction worker, loses his job when an accident occurs on the “high steel,” and he finds himself playing stay-at-home-dad to his and Layne’s three children. The results are hilarious and poignant, often on the same page. During his tenure, mishaps aplenty occur, a menagerie of animals roam the five-acre lot where the Brannigans live, and Mick discovers passion and purpose in his life. While his wife, Layne, is certain the children will be psychologically scarred . . . if they survive . . . Mick plods along in hopes that the damage to his kids won’t be permanent.

This story was delightful in countless ways, laugh out loud funny at times, and heartwarming to the end. I’ll be reading more from this author.

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows. Doesn’t the title alone make you want to dive in and see what this is about? First, I must tell you, I’m not sure I’ve ever read an “epistolary” novel before. For those who might not be familiar with such a strange word, it’s a novel presented only in letters and other correspondence. Set in London and on Guernsey Island (of the Channel Islands between Paris and England), I was captivated not only with the setting which was unfamiliar to me, but also a slice of history that I knew nothing about – the German Occupation of Guernsey Island during WW II. The story is tender and charming, a tale I could read again and again.

One note about the book: Mary Ann Schaffer, the author who carried this story in her heart for many years, had just sold it to a publisher when she became ill and unable to finish the editing process. Her niece, Annie Barrows stepped in and make the final additions. It’s truly an act of grace that the world now has this lovely book. Ms. Schaffer has now passed away.

HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET by Jamie Ford. Again, this title mesmerized and enticed me. It’s also a story of an era that I knew little about. Set in the Chinese and Japanese districts of Seattle during WW II, it is a story of forbidden love—a first love that is torn apart when a young Japanese girl and her family are sent to a Japanese internment camp in Idaho. Her young Chinese friend carves a new life for himself, and many years later, upon the death of his wife, is drawn to a hotel where the belongings of many Japanese families have been stored in the basement. For him, it is the beginning of a search for the past, and it’s a lovely journey.

So, for you, my faithful readers here at the Café, I present the four books that captured my heart in 2009. Each is unique and has different qualities that endeared them to me, but the unifying factor is simply this: The stories have lingered long after the last page. The characters are people I would be proud to call friends. I hope you have the opportunity to meet them too.

Q for you: What is the best book you’ve read this year? Please leave a comment and tell me the name of the book, the author, and what made you love the book.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! May 2010 bring you many reading pleasures.

12 comments:

Lorna G. Poston said...

Title: Behold the Dawn (released 10-01-09)
Author: K.M. Weiland
Reason I liked it: awesome descriptions and characterization. This woman can write! She drew me into every scene and didn't let me go until the last page.

dsrtrosy said...

I read so little christian fiction these days, Carla, I'm glad to have your posts--and your opinions! I'm much more of the Frank Perretti crowd, but I am willing to branch out.

Carole said...

I was glad to see your top 4 picks, Carla, because I already have the first three and hope to read The Help and The Guernsey Literary books this year. I've noticed The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet on Kindle's bestseller list and plan on getting it after reading your review.

But I was especially glad to see Dale Cramer's book on your list because I go to church with him and he is a great guy. Summer of Light came out of his own experience because he was injured in his job as an electrician and started writing a novel that had been on his heart for years, Sutter's Cross. His third book, Levi's Will, is also drawn from personal family experience. I'm glad you enjoyed Summer of Light, Carla.

D'Ann Mateer said...

Great suggestions! I've read Guernsey but I'll be looking forward to finding the others.

I did just finish a book that rounded out my reading year quite nicely: La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith. It is a WWII England story that puts me in mind of the Guernsey book (which I loved). It's not a long book but it is different than AMS's other stuff (The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency, etc.), although I love those, too.

carla stewart said...

Thanks dsrtrosy. I loved the Peretti books, too, but Christian fiction has come a long way. There are some amazing writers out there.

Carole, I think I knew that Dale went to your church. Awesome writer. I have Levi's Will in my HUMONGOUS reading pile - hope to get to it this year. Blessings in the new year to you both.

carla stewart said...

D'Ann, thanks so much for the recommendation for Smith's book. I saw it at the bookstore and was intrigued. Also, I got the 1st season of No 1 Ladies Det. Agency for Christmas. Can't wait to spend a few hours in Africa with Precious.

Here's to a year of great reading!

Sandee61 said...

Happy New Year Carla! Just wanted to say I am reading "Summer of Light" by W. Dale Cramer right now, and enjoying very much. Its my first book of 2010. I've read all of his books and loved them.

Love the recipes you add to your email blogs. Thanks! The Poorman's Millionaire's went fast...made them for Christmas.

I can't wait till your book, Chasing Lilacs comes out in June!
Beautiful cover.

New Year's Blessings,
Sandee61

Faith Imagined said...

Those sound excellent! I will check them out the next time I go to the library! Many blessings to you in the New Year!!!

Patti Lacy said...

Oh, MY, CARLA!
Just finished the Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and have gifted about five "The Helps."

Actually Natasha suggested the Hotel for the frame device. Wasn't it GORGEOUS!!???

And...I just posted on Guernsey. Could you BELIEVE the surprise in the author's note???

I KNOW you cried.
Patti
www.pattilacy.com/blog

carla stewart said...

Sandee, thanks for your faithfulness in stopping by my blog. I've enjoyed putting up others' recipes and trying them myself - sort of a win - win for all of us.

I can hardly wait for you to read CHASING LILACS! It can't come out soon enough.

Faith Imagined, I hope you love these books! And I really should use the library more instead of clicking that Amazon button :-)

Patti - we think alike. I knew you would love these books. I do like a book that bears me away to new places and don't mind a tear or two when I'm finished.

All the best to all of you in 2010!

Christina Berry said...

CHASING LILACS will surely be showing up on many Best of 2010 lists, my dear Carla. I can't wait to see the reaction you're going to get from readers. You do just what you say about THE HELP--drop the readers into a world full of senses that make the story become real.

carla stewart said...

Thank you so much, Christina, for your encouragement! And, as you saw on one of my previous posts, your book, THE FAMILIAR STRANGER, definitely made my "best of 2010" list. Can't wait to see what your next one is about.