Last week, I shared my favourite nonfiction reads. I read more fiction than nonfiction titles this year—out of the 82 books I read this year, 58 of them were fiction. It took a whole lot of effort to narrow down my favourites, but I managed.
Today I’m sharing the fiction I absolutely loved, can’t stop thinking about, and know I’ll keep coming back to…
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Diffenbaugh’s debut novel has been on my reading list for years. Abandoned at birth, Victoria Jones has spent her childhood bouncing through countless foster and group homes. At eighteen, she is emancipated from the foster-care system and has nowhere to go. She immerses herself in flowers and their meanings; her only connection to the world.
Diffenbaugh skillfully blends her firsthand knowledge of the foster-care system (she’s a foster mother to many children) with her fascination with the language of flowers to create this beautiful and hopeful story. I really connected with Victoria’s journey and couldn’t help but root for her from start to finish. A book about survival, mother-daughter relationships, human connection, love, forgiveness, redemption, and of course, the Victorian language of flowers. While reading, I enjoyed consulting the Dictionary of Flowers included at the back of the book. I read it back in the spring and I know I’ll be returning to it again and again.
I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
Mackintosh’s debut is so good, I read it twice. One woman’s world comes crashing down when her son is killed in a hit-and-run; another woman, Jenna Gray, tries to escape the memory of the accident by leaving her life behind. The story shuffles between Jenna trying to make a new life for herself on the Welsh coast and a pair of Bristol police investigators trying to get to the bottom of the hit-and-run. Every time I thought I had the story figured out, Mackintosh threw in another twist. Mackintosh’s British police training makes this one shockingly real. Tightly-woven, gorgeously written, brilliant, tense, pulse-quickening, and addictive.
Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova
New York Times bestselling author and neuroscientist Genova has written four novels; Inside the O’Briens was the first one I read straight through. At first I thought it would be too scary and too real, but the story of the O’Brien family hooked me from the first page and immediately captured my heart. This beautiful family novel teaches us to keep living in the face of tragedy, never take our health for granted, show compassion, and be present for those around us. A believable, compassionate portrayal of what it’s like to be diagnosed with and live with Huntington’s disease and how it affects our loved ones. I came away from this book with a clear understanding of a disease I previously knew very little about. I read it in three days.
2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
This is the classic case of picking up a book based on its cover. I’d never heard of Bertino’s debut novel until the beautiful cover caught my eye at the bookstore. The entire story takes place on the eve of Christmas Eve in snowy Philadelphia. Bertino introduces us to Madeleine Altimari, a sassy nine-year-old who also happens to be an aspiring jazz singer, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, and Lorca, the owner of a jazz club called The Cat’s Pajamas who discovers that he might have to close its doors for good.
I fell hopelessly in love with each character, especially spunky nine-year-old Madeleine. I found myself slowing down as the end drew near; I just didn’t want this story to end. Beautifully written, utterly charming, witty, moving, delightful, and packed with surprises. A great one to curl up with this winter.
Faithful by Alice Hoffman
Alice Hoffman has written more than thirty books; this was my first and it won’t be my last. I devoured this captivating story in one night. Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is your typical high school senior, until one night a terrible accident changes everything. Her best friend, Helene’s future is destroyed in the accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt. This moving story follows one young woman as she struggles with survivor’s guilt, grief, depression, self-harm, and loneliness, and eventually moves to New York City where she finds herself. In Shelby, Hoffman has given us an astonishingly believable, relatable, lovable character; I couldn’t help but cheer her on. I don’t want to give too much away. But if you’re looking for the perfect read to curl up with, look no further than this beautifully told, vivid, poignant, unforgettable, hopeful story.
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
Sarah Nickerson is a working mom with a high-powered job and three young children. One morning on her drive to work, she is distracted by her cell phone and ends up in a horrible accident that leaves her with Left Neglect, a brain injury that steals her awareness of everything on her left side. While struggling to recover and yearning for her pre-accident life, Sarah has no choice but to slow down. A compelling story about how life can change in an instant, what we neglect in our lives, and how tragedy forces us to pay attention to what truly matters. Beautifully written, humorous, and unforgettable. I’ve been recommending it to friends, co-workers, and strangers.
I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
This debut historical novel is inspired by the more than 200 women who disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War. Newly married Rosetta Wakefield doesn’t want her husband, Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up anyway, hoping to make enough money that they’ll be able to afford their own farm someday. Strong-willed Rosetta decides that her place is by her husband’s side so she cuts off her hair, dresses in shirt and pants, and volunteers as a Union soldier. Told in Rosetta’s powerful voice, this story captured my heart from page one. I laughed, cried, and rooted for Rosetta. McCabe’s prose is absolutely stunning and I hung onto each and every word. Beautiful, lyrical, heart-wrenching, unforgettable, and thoroughly researched; it’s one of the best historical novels I’ve ever read. Highly recommended.
I See You by Clare Mackintosh
Mackintosh’s new thriller was released here in Canada on November 29 and I wasted no time in grabbing a copy. I read it in 24 hours. Mackintosh transports us to the London Underground. While riding the train home one night, Zoe Walker spots her photo in the classifieds section of the London Gazette. When other women begin appearing in the same ad every day, Zoe realizes they’ve become victims of increasingly violent crimes. With the help of a determined young cop, she uncovers the ad’s twisted purpose. I loved the police procedure details and the rapport between the investigators. A twist-filled plot that kept me guessing right up until the final page (literally). Creepy, thought-provoking, clever, heart-stopping, and scarily believable; I can’t stop thinking about it. This timely thriller has made me more vigilant while riding the subway and walking home alone.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
I’ve been dying to read Bennett’s much-talked-about debut novel since it hit shelves in the fall. My sweet blogger friend, Sarah from over at Glowing Local offered to send me a copy and I was overjoyed when it arrived in the mail last Tuesday. It’s an important and timely book about community, secrets, friendship, love, loss, and betrayal. Written in the most breathtakingly beautiful prose, Bennett explores how the choices we make in our youth follow us into adulthood. I read this one in two days. I really hope Bennett has another novel in the works.
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Megan Abbott has written eight novels; this was the first one I’ve picked up. In her latest thriller, Abbott propels us into the fascinating and dangerous world of competitive gymnastics. Gymnastics is my favourite Olympic sport so the story immediately drew me in. While I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, I found myself slowing down and re-reading Abbott’s breathtaking sentences. Pulse-pounding, twist-filled, witty, creepy, skillfully plotted, and compulsively readable. It kept me up till 4 a.m.