1 The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
“…one of the most brilliant and emotional books I’ve ever read. The book is narrated by the personification of Death, and tells the story of nine year old orphan Liesel Meminger in World War II era Germany. It’s like Anne Frank Meets Joe Black…The morbid presence of the sarcastic and poetic Death foreshadows the novel’s journey from playfully poignant tales of Liesel’s book thievery to heartbreaking sorrows as the Nazi empire’s terror invades Liesel’s personal life.”
2 The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell
“…beautifully written, enthralling piece of Gothic fiction that effortlessly weaves together the emotional and riveting threads of one family’s multi-generational tale…Esme Lennox, who is being discharged after over six decades in an asylum…taken back into the past to be properly introduced to the intriguing Esme and learn the appalling truth behind her banishment….realistic characters and suspenseful drama wrapped in eloquent prose…”
3 The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Ann Burrows
“…a delightful, intelligent, and often emotional novel…serendipitous correspondence between a London writer and various inhabitants of one of the Channel Islands recently freed from German occupation in the post-war 1940s…so joyous that I found myself cheering for these fictional people I had unwittingly become so invested in.”
4 Undiscovered Country by Lin Enger
“…successfully captures the melancholy and dramatic atmosphere of Hamlet, yet the plot is fast paced with characters that are both interesting and human. The novel is so well written that it would be just as compelling even with no allusions to the Bard’s tale…it’s Jesse’s inner turmoil as well as his interactions with his vixenish mother and possibly villainous uncle that are most riveting.”
5 The Outlander by Gil Adamson
“…so wonderful to find this kind of rare story that is well written and still moves along at such an exhilarating pace…young protagonist Mary Boulton, a widow of her own making who is being pursued through a rugged 1903 wilderness by the vengeful twin brothers of her dead husband…surely destined to become a classic…”
6 The Resurrectionist by Jack O’Connell
“…a brilliant and unique fable…weaves intense emotion and themes of tolerance into the fantastical dual plots…The story of druggist Sweeney and his comatose son Danny’s residence at the mysterious Peck Clinic alternates with the fanciful world of persecuted circus freaks held within the pages of Danny’s favorite comic Limbo.”
7 The Age Of Dreaming by Nina Revoyr
“…full of 1920s intrigue and glamor, at times recalling Sunset Boulevard, Chaplin, and even L.A. Confidential…aging and all but forgotten Japanese actor Jun Nakayama, a relic from the silent film era who is enjoying a life in obscurity in 1964 until his peace is disrupted by a young writer…intertwined into the present day (1960s) of Jun’s golden years is a 1920s murder mystery filled with stars and seduction.”
8 The House At Riverton by Kate Morton
“…revisits the scandalous past of the wealthy Ashbury family in the years preceding and following World War I. The book captures the wartime drama and family secrets of Atonement as well as the spectacular, romantic 1920s atmosphere of The Great Gatsby, and mixes in the English country estate, class divides, and gossip of Gosford Park.”
9 Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
I neglected to review this one, probably because a disturbing scene toward the end of the novel ruined the otherwise jubilant tone of the book. But it was a necessary evil of sorts, as the story does involve a military occupation. But what drew me most into the book were the humble natives who were introduced to Great Expectations by an ethusiastic school teacher.
10 Swim to Me by Betsy Carter
This one I’m surprised I didn’t review, as I recall it was quite charming and reminded me a little of Big Fish. The story of a girl who runs away to work at a mermaid park in Florida wasn’t as good as it could have been – it’s quirkiness was a little too self-aware at times, while other passages lagged – but it was mostly a fun, bright read.
*Honorable mention to The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë (“…beautifully written, poignant, dramatic, and romantic novel by the tragically overlooked other Brontë sister”). I only discovered the classic novel this year, and no one else I know seems to have read it.