Here are my favourite novels from last year (when I read them, not necessarily when they were published). I link to Amazon as a convenience: buy books where you want to see them sold, or, as we mostly do, borrow them from your public library.
Last year’s standout novel was Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron. Rebecca and I read this aloud, and loved every moment of it. The story of the founding pastor of a megachurch who undergoes a crisis of faith, causing his board to suggest he take some time away, Chase Falson travels to Italy to spend time with a beloved uncle, a Franciscan, who decides to take him on a pilgrimage to learn about Francis of Assisi – and himself. Just wonderful.
In general fiction were two gems. The Chisellers by Brendan O’Carroll, is the second in his trilogy about a woman hard-scrabbling to raise her seven children in 1970’s Ireland. Colourfully-drawn characters, plenty of laughter and tears along the way – delightful. The second was Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult. The story turns on a court case where a woman and her ex-husband are fighting for custody of their three frozen embryos: she, to have a child with her female partner, and he, to give to his childless brother and his wife. Deeply sympathetic characters, a tight courtroom drama and an engaging, insightful portrayal of the challenges childlessness, alcoholism, sexuality and religious experience present to the main characters made for both a painful and beautiful story.
In thrillers was The Labyrinth of Osiris by Paul Sussmann. The murder of an investigative journalist in a cathedral in Jerusalem leads the detective to seek help from a colleague in Egypt as they uncover a tangled web involving the disappearance of an archaeologist in the ’30s, a multi-national corporation and a fabled goldmine. Fantastic.
I am a die-hard fan of murder mysteries. And I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed Robert Galbraith (J K Rowling)’s first, Cuckoo’s Calling. A down-on-his-luck private detective is hired by a brother, suspicious of his supermodel sister’s apparent suicide. Well-drawn characters and genuine plot twists made for a highly enjoyable read.
In spy novels was Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwen. One of those rare novels where the twist at the end makes you re-think the entire story.
In young adolescent lit, was Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli. The story of the Warsaw ghetto during WW2 is told through the voice of a simple, Roma boy who is taken in by a gang of Jewish street urchins. The innocence of his voice makes the story improbably more painful than I already anticipated.
In children’s lit was Voices by Ursula LeGuin, the second in the Annals of the Western Shore trilogy. Set in a city under the boot of an occupying army that has banned the written word as revolutionary, one family hides a precious library. A beautiful story of the power of story and friendship to overcome fear and violence. Also highly enjoyable was the Crispin trilogy by Avi, which I read aloud to Maggie and Seth. The books follow the adventures of Crispin, a young peasant boy living in medieval England, who is befriended by a traveling street entertainer after his mother dies. An unflinching look at the harshness of life, but not without hope.
In fantasy were the Belgariad and Mallorean series by David Eddings. I tend to read fantasy in the winter months, and re-read these ten books huddled under the covers, lost in the excellently constructed world, mythology and characters Eddings has created.
In “new friends” was DCI Simon Serrailler, the creation of Susan Hill, a well-drawn and complex character, with several ongoing story lines that unfold over several books.
Finally, in the “just because you start a book doesn’t mean you need to finish it” category was Bloodline by Felix Francis – the heir apparent to the Dick Francis’ racing series. He’s not.