365 days. 52 weeks. 12 months. All equivalent to one calendar year and if you’re anything like me, you spend as many of those days, weeks, and months reading and drinking tea.
I wanted to share my best reads of the year, one book for each month. Although some months I enjoyed more than one good book, I decided this would be a better approach because this post could end up being really long. If I’ve reviewed the book on the blog I’ll link the review in case you want to read it (will open in another window). I’ll share a quote and briefly summarize why I think the book is outstanding. If I might add, every one of these books, I’d easily read again in the future. I’m including a few honorable mentions some of them were re-reads but I figured good books should be shared even if they’ve been read before.
MARY BARTON by Elizabeth Gaskell (classics)
“Come, Alice. Don’t fret yoursel for e’er a trifle wrong said here or there. See! I’ve put th’ kettle on, and Mary shall ha’ a dish o’ tea in no time.”
At first this book seems very somber, there seems to be tragedy and hardship at every turn for the poor working class people, including Mary and John, her father. But Gaskell’s ability to convey and emote love, compassion and kindness in characters deeply affected me while reading this book. She reminded me of what it means to be large hearted, caring and selfless. This was my first five-star read of the year and put Gaskell on my list of favorite authors.
INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL by Harriet Jacobs (non–fiction)
MIDDLEMARCH by George Eliot (classics)
Eliot’s cast of characters, their circumstances, their lives, choices and challenges, were so multifaceted and humanly honest, it became very easy to be swept up into their lives, peering into their thoughts and emotional struggles. Each character offered some nuance, contributing something to the story, I can’t imagine any of them being left out. The opportunity for more comparisons and contrasts in personalities, relationships, decisions and the consequences abound. I seriously had a book hangover when I finished. Oh, I forgot to mention, Middlemarch convinced me that annotating was a MUST.
JANE OF AUSTIN : A NOVEL OF SWEET TEA & SENSIBILITY by Hillary Manton Logde (fiction)
Honorable mention: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (classics)
BOARDWALK SUMMER by Meredith Jaeger (historical fiction)
I always enjoy a good historical fiction read, especially when the author offers you an early copy to read and review. Told in alternating POVs from past and present, Violent and Marisol are two characters who won’t be stopped by men who try to bully them into silence and submission.
Honorable mention: Hard Times by Charles Dickens (classics)
THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows (historical fiction)
“That’s what I love about reading : one thing will interest you in a book and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive –all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”
“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.”
Both of these quotes have proved true; I find myself thinking about them as I’ve continued reading throughout the year. How did it take me so long to pick up this delightful gem? An enjoyable audiobook with charming characters. A book about books, a literary society and survival during WWII when Germans occupied the island of Guernsey. Did I mention there’s references to Wilkie Collins? I’ll be watching the movie and adding this to my re-read list.
Honorable mention: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (re-read, classics)
THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD by Zora Neale Hurston (re-read, classics)
“There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought.”
POST UPDATE: I had to make a correction for the month of July! This was my first book by Hurston and I decided to read again. I picked up the audiobook and was transported into the lyrical beauty and prose of Hurston through an award winning performance by Ruby Dee. The audio experience enriches the essence of the story.
Honorable mention: EXCELLENT WOMEN by Barbara Pym (classics)
“‘Kettle’s boiling, miss,’ she said, and I knew that it must be eleven o’clock, for she made this remark so regularly that I should have thought something was wrong if she had forgotten.
‘Oh, good, then let’s have our tea,’ I said, making the response expected of me.
I was so astonished that I could think of nothing to day, but wondered irrelevantly if I was to be caught with a teapot in my hand on every dramatic occasion.”
My first Pym and Mildred was indeed an excellent woman.
ETHAN FROME by Edith Wharton (classics)
The winter setting of Ethan Frome creates a coldness felt in the relationship between Ethan and his wife Zeena but also Ethan’s plight. He seemed frozen in place with no opportunity for much happiness since his wife is a hypochondriac and he probably wouldn’t have ended up back home on his parents farm in Massachusetts if his parents had not fallen sick. Wharton surprised me at the end!
Honorable mention: Silas Marner by George Eliot
I’D RATHER BE READING by Anne Bogel (non–fiction)
“Choosing my next book sometimes feels like a complicated dance. With so many books to read, how can I possibly decide what to read? What to read now? What to read next? There are many factors to juggle, but I’ll tell you this: I agree with Duke Ellington, the jazz great who famously quipped, “I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.””
Equipped with a pot of tea, my book, some book darts, I had a nice chat with Anne while reading this. Shaking my head in agreement, laughing with understanding, I thought about my life as a reader, how I’ve grown and changed as a person, as a reader, what it means, the challenges, the changes, this book just felt like home.
Honorable mention: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (re-read, historical fiction)
PASSING by Nella Larsen (classics)
The practice of “passing” is one I’ve read about in books but have often wondered about, the people who decided to, those who decided not to and the motivations for their decisions. As a PoC, I’ve long been fascinated with the diversity in our culture. But I’ve also been exposed to the long time prejudices within my own race. This book allowed me to examine for a while, the origins of such ideas. Larsen allows Clare and Irene to mirror in each other the chasm of race, loyalty, gender.
Honorable mention: Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
NO NAME by Wilkie Collins (classics)
“It is a tale of trappers trapping trappers, devised by a novelist who, we are continually reminded, is himself am addictive contriver.” -Introduction to No Name from the Oxford World’s Classic edition
Two sisters lose their inheritance after discovering their parents were not married at the time of their birth and due to their parents recent marriage, their father’s will becomes null and void. They become “Nobody’s Children.” Each sister deals with the consequences of this situation differently. No Name is atmospheric, dripping in suspense as we follow Magdalen’s quest to right the wrong done to her by the uncompassionate law and merciless relatives.
THE RADIUM GIRLS by Kate Moore (non–fiction)
“That was the tragedy. Radium had been known to be harmful since 1901. Every death since was unnecessary.”
Kate Morton does an outstanding job of bringing so many women to life and helping the reader understand the cruel brevity of their lives after working with radium and dying painfully from radium poisoning. Their work as ‘dial painters,’ painting radium on watch dials (to make them glow in the dark) at mutilple radium-dial factories cost countless women their lives. Several of the women fought back against the despicable companies and their efforts led to the establishment of safety regulations in the workplace. Unforgettable book.