Saturday, January 5, 2019

Books of 2018

The final count was 69 books read in 2018 - I am happy with that!  Here are the ones I really loved this year that will be added to the "highly recommended" list (in no particular order):

  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.  This is one of those sweeping family sagas that covers several generations. The story begins in Korea, with teenaged Sunja who finds herself pregnant by an (unbeknownst to her) married man.  Refusing to become a kept mistress, she marries a sickly minister on his way to Japan.  The story continues with her new family trying to make their way in Japan against prejudice, war and health crises.  Twists and turns, you never know exactly where things are going to end up for all of them.  The title refers to a mechanical gambling game that figures heavily in several characters lives.  This was a book club selection and I really enjoyed the audio version.  It took a little bit of time to get all the characters straight because of similar names, but after that, I was hooked.
  • Circe by Madeline Miller.  I was enthralled by this book!  It's definitely on my list of "always recommended."  The goddess Circe is a puzzling child to her parents, god of the sun Helios and the nymph Perse.  She is neither powerful nor particularly beautiful and teased unmercifully for her strange voice.  She turns to mortals for companionship and discovers her powers of witchcraft.  Threatened by her power, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island where she spends eternity honing her powers and of course, meeting a who's who of greek mythology: the Minotaur, Daedalus and his son Icarus, Medea and of course Odysseus.   In the end, Circe must gather all her power and choose once and for all where she belongs: with the gods she was born to or with the mortals she has come to love.  I didn't know a lot about greek mythology beyond what M and I read in the Percy Jackson series but this swept me into all of it and I wanted to read more.  Again, I listened to the audio book and Perdita Weeks was the perfect reader.  There were many times I sat in the driveway finishing the chapter.
  • The Book of M by Peng Shepherd.  This book is classified as Fantasy, but I think it could also fit under Thriller.  Set sometime in the future, the book begins when a man in India loses his shadow.  It just disappears.  And slowly his memories start to fade too until he doesn't remember anything - not where he is, not who he is, nothing. And since he can't remember his past reality, then he is able to make his own.  And then the Forgetting and its accompanying destructive magic starts to spread like a plague across the world causing havoc, distrust, war and the rise of a cult.  The book follows different people, coming from different parts of the world, heading towards New Orleans as they hear about a prophet who can fix people's memories.  Ory is tracking his wife, Max, who left him when her shadow did in order to protect him.  This book creeped me out but I couldn't put it down either.  
  • Us Against You by Fredrik Backman.  The sequel to Beartown, we are back in the hockey-mad town, when the townspeople learn that their hockey team will be disbanded and all the best players have been lured to play for rival town Hed.  A surprising newcomer is picked to coach and bond the players left behind into a team.  But old grudges and new whispers escalate the decades-old rivalry.  By the time the final game is played, someone is dead and both towns are wondering if the game they love can ever be just a simple game anymore.  Fredrik Backman has a knack for building suspense and throwing in twists that you never see coming.  
  • Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson.  Marnie MacGraw just wants to marry her fiance, have kids, live in the suburbs, drive a minivan and fit in.  Her fiance's eccentric great-aunt Blix tells her at their engagement party that this is never going to happen.  When her marriage ends after only two weeks, she doesn't know what hit her.  And then she finds out that Blix has passed away and left her the Brooklyn brownstone full of unfinished projects and neighbors who need someone to rely on.  Why would somebody she only met for 10 minutes a year ago, do that?  On the condition that she live there for a year, Blix insists via letter and other posthumous winks that Marnie is the perfect person to carry on her magic and matchmaking.  And it turns out she was right.
  • Longbourn by Jo Baker.    It's no secret that I love Jane Austen.  There have been an abundance of retellings and sequels and prequels.  Some of them are interesting, some are execrable, and very few are good.  Longbourn is a good one.  Here, the servants take center stage and there is as much romance, heartbreak and intrigue as there is upstairs.  And lots of laundering of muddy petticoats.  It's at once familiar and new.  I loved it.
  • The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan.  Another book club choice, I really liked this one.  Anthony Peardew lost something precious the day his beloved fiance died.  He's since spent his life picking up lost things and cataloging them meticulously.  He writes stories about them.  But now near the end of his life, he worries that the items will never be reunited with their owners.  Recovering after a painful divorce, Laura takes a job as Anthony's assistant, unsuspecting that he is going to leave her his house, all the lost things and his mission.  With the help of the gardener, Freddy and delightful neighbor Sunshine, Laura struggles to do what Anthony wished and find the right home for all involved.  As we find out the stories behind all the lost things and how they became lost, we realize that nothing is ever lost, everything - and everyone - end up exactly where they are meant to be in their own time.