’s Top 10 Books of 2015

10 John Furrow: The Storm Murders

9 Seth Greenland: I Regret Everything

8 Sophie Hannah: Woman With a Secret

7 Alice Fulton: Barely Composed

6 Michelle Penazola: landscape/heartbreak

5 Ron Rash: Above the Waterfall

4 Stuart Rojstaczer: The Mathematician’s Shiva

3 Kate Morton: The Lake House

2 Amanda Palmer: The Art of Asking

1 Victoria Hislop: The Sunrise

Muruch’s Top 10 Books of 2012

After a few years of delving into classic literature and non-fiction adventure books (mostly about exploring the Amazon and Mexican caves), I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy some new novels this year. I didn’t post a book list last year, so I’m including one 2011 release I read this year. Please comment with your favorite reads of 2012!

Muruch’s Top 10 Books of 2012

10. Rachel Joyce: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

A charming, quaint little story about an elderly Englishman’s spontaneous journey on foot to see an ailing friend and the effect his decision has on himself, his wife and everyone he encounters along the way. It would have been my #1 book of the year if not for the second half veering off into Forrest Gump territory.

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9. Charlotte Rogan Virago: The Lifeboat

Set in 1914, a group of survivors in a tiny lifeboat gradually lose all sense of decency and themselves after nearly a month at sea in the aftermath of a sunken ocean liner. As the narrator reveals upfront she’s on trial for murder, you know this ain’t no Titanic.

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8. Natasha Solomons: The House at Tyneford

A classically written novel about a young Jewish refugee who escapes WWII-era Vienna to work as a maid in an English manor. It’s like a romanticized Downton Abbey.

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7. Sarah Sundin: With Every Letter

A melodramatic but sweet WWII-era romance about two military outcasts falling in love through correspondence.

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6. Lynn Austin: Wonderland Creek (2011)

…a charming, cheery little novel…Austin pays homage to Lewis Carroll by dropping her feisty, somewhat spoiled, bookworm heroine, Alice, in a strange, Depression-era, backwoods Appalachia town called Wonderland Creek…one of those uplifting reads that leaves a smile on your face at the end, though you’ll miss that wonderful little world when it’s over.

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5. Theodora Goss: The Thorn & The Blossom

…a romantic fable in unusual binding. This beautiful, open-spined book folds out like an accordion, so you can choose to read Evelyn’s story then flip over to Brendan’s perspective (or vice versa) as they meet in a bookstore, fall in love, are torn apart and attempt to find their way back to each other.

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4. Graham Joyce: The Silent Land

An unusual fantasy of a couple who miraculously survive an avalanche while skiing only to find the French village they are staying in completely deserted and eerily silent when they return. A chain of strange events and their inability to escape the village lead the couple to question the very world they live in.

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3. Ron Rash: The Cove

Rash certainly imagines some extraordinary plots. Had his 2009 novel, Serena, been released this year, it would also be on this list. Set in WW1-era Appalachia, The Cove tells of a lonely, outcast girl who falls in love with a mysterious, mute stranger who carries a secret of his own.

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2. Victoria Hislop: The Thread

Another exquisite, multi-cultural, multi-generational tale by Victoria Hislop, who just may be the finest writer alive. Her stories are always a rich, tightly woven, unparalleled tapestry of language.

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1. Kate Morton: The Secret Keeper

…truly a page turner…Morton deftly takes us back and forth from the blitz of WWII-era London through the 1960’s and into the modern age, weaving a universe of mystery and suspense all along the way…so well designed and executed that, for once, the twist at the end took me completely by surprise.

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Kate Morton: The Secret Keeper

Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper is truly a page turner. It’s a rather thick hardback (yes, I still read actual books!), so I was shocked to finish reading it in one weekend.

Morton, author of The House at Riverton, is one of my favorite modern authors. She has a knack for writing prose that is beautifully descriptive and somewhat flowery, but light enough to keep a flowing pace. This is especially true of the very suspenseful The Secret Keeper.

While time-shifting chapters between two generations has become quite a popular construct in contemporary fiction, The Secret Keeper is the rare novel whose two worlds and two protagonists are equally interesting and fully developed.

The central story focuses on the life of Laurel Nicolson, an aging actress who witnessed a disturbing event in her childhood and has kept it a secret from her siblings ever since. No, this is nothing like Atonement. The event happens in chapter one, but it’s a riveting scene I won’t spoil for you. As adult Laura delves into the mysterious history leading up to that event, we are transported back to her mother’s youth.

Laura’s mother, Dorothy, shares equal billing in this tale. She’s a very complex, very human character — at times unlikable, at times sympathetic. Morton deftly takes us back and forth from the blitz of WWII-era London through the 1960’s and into the modern age, weaving a universe of mystery and suspense all along the way. Again, I don’t wish to spoil the story. It’s so well designed and executed that, for once, the twist at the end took me completely by surprise.

I hadn’t planned on doing a Best Books list this year, but The Secret Keeper may be the motivation I need to do just that.


Kate Morton: The House At Riverton

The House At Riverton is Australian author Kate Morton’s excellent debut novel. Morton’s writing is beautifully intelligent without weighing down the momentum of the cinematic plot, which 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.

In the manner of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Morton’s The House At Riverton begins in the twilight years of its protagonist and travels back through her memories to examine the dramatic and heartwrenching past. In the present, 98 year old Grace is asked to share memories of her youthful servitude at Riverton Manor for a film based on the apparent suicide of a poet on the grounds of the estate.

Though the events surrounding the poet’s death are by far the most interesting parts of the story, they really only come into focus in the final third of the book. The majority of the novel centers on Grace’s humble life as a servant and her bird’s eye view of the vivid Ashbury sisters. The emotion Morton evokes from her characters keeps the pages turning until the tension begins to build and the climatic death scene finally arrives.

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