"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Friday, May 14, 2021

42 Fantastic Novels Read in the Last Five Years

This past weekend a friend contacted me and wondered how she could use my blog to find a list of recommended books.  Every January I make a list of favorite books from the previous year but I have never compiled those lists into a master list for ease of viewing. Great idea. Here is a list of 42 books I really like, have recently read, and can recommend without any hesitation. This list focuses on fiction only. Titles are hyperlinked to my reviews, which I hope you will take a look at to get a fuller idea about the book's merits. The date I completed the book is in the parentheses and the list is organized according to date read.

42 Fantastic Novels I've Read in the Past Five Years (2016-2020+)


1. The Girl with the Louding Voice
by Abi Daré---Adunni lives in a village in Nigeria where women are not prized. All she wants to do is go to school so she can make a difference for other girls but her father as another idea for heAdunni. Written in vernacular which takes a few pages to get used to reading. Her story is both maddening and inspiring.  (4/2021) 

2. Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell---Hamnet is Shakespeare's only son. This is a story imagining what life was like in the 1500s. It is also a story about parental grief after the death of a child. This is very well done. In fact it is also believable. I hope you take a look at my review before you dismiss it out of hand. I loved it. (3/2021) 

3. The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman---Yes. This is 'Princess Bride' of classic movie fame. The book is as charming as the movie with the addition of the author inserting himself into the story. It is as if there are two separate stories going on at once. It puts a smile on my face to think of it and I am so glad I finally read it. (10/2020)  

4. Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King---I don't usually read King because I get horrified by the horror genre of fiction. This book is a detective/mystery novel. It is so well done and riveting. Honestly we had to listen to the ending of this book in one big gulp. When you are finished with it, cue up the second book in the Bill Hodges series, Finders Keepers. (8/2020)

5. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nishi Coates---A unique imagining of the underground railroad. Read this and then watch the movie "Harriet". They go well together. (6/2020)

6. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry---An epic story of the old west. Don't be put off my its length. It is worth every page. It was my favorite novel read in 2020, a strange year indeed. I am so glad I finally had to time for this masterpiece. (4/2020)
 

7.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood---A continuation of The Handmaid's Tale. The story picks up fifteen years later and is told through the voices of three female narrators from Gilead. Each tell their part of the story until the three coalesce into a dynamic and satisfying conclusion, answering almost all of the questions that have bothered readers for over a decade. A must-read if you are a fan of The Handmaid's Tale. (3/2020)
 
8. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett---A brother and sister and their special relationship with each other and with the Dutch house. If you like listening to audiobooks, this one is narrated by Tom Hanks. (12/2019)

9. Virgil Wander by Leif Enger---A quirky book by a favorite author. This book is full of heart. Of all the books on this list, Virgil Wander has probably stood out as one of the best of the best to me. (11/2019)
 
10. Inland by Téa Obreht---Set in Arizona Territory in the 1800s, it tells the story of two very different people whose lives converge one dry, dusty night. My recommendation for Inland comes with a warning. If you decide to read it, finish it. It is confusing in the beginning. The ending, however, is so spectacular and surprising it took my breath away. It was both sweet and creepy at the same time. Still unsure? Check out my review. (11/2019)

11. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner---First published in 1987 Crossing to Safety is considered by many to be the author's finest work. It is definitely an oldie but a goodie. It is to story of two couples and their life-long friendship. I first read it in 1996 and enjoyed it just as much or more the second time around. (9/2019)

12. The Overstory by Richard Powers---Interconnected stories all having something to do with trees. Brilliant. I can't say enough good things about this book. I hope you read my review to gain more appreciation for it. (8/2019)
 

13.
Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid---After a super popular 70s rock band breaks up at the peak of their popularity everyone wonders why. This book is written as if all the band members are being interviewed and are giving the facts of what happened from their perspective. A fresh approach to literature and fun for old rock fans like myself. (8/2019) 
 
14. Circe by Madeleine Miller---Miller collected all the bits of Circe's stories from Greek mythology and pieced them together into an incredibly well-written story. AND, and that is a big AND, it made me want to read more on the topic and by this author. Truth be told, though, two gals in book club thought the book was awful. I admit it gets off to a slow start. Begin by reading my review? (7/2019)
 
15. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai---My favorite book read in 2019, this book gives a hard look at the AIDS epidemic from its start to current days. The loss of so many men in the prime of life is compared to the Lost Generation of WWI. (4/2019)
 
16. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka---A novella in length, this novel tells the story of a chorus of picture brides who arrive in America from Japan seeking a better life here and not finding it. A singularly unique book. (4/2019) 

17. The Magic String of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom---With a unique narrator, Music, this book not only delighted me with the storyline---a musical man and trajectory of his life---but also with the interludes where actual musicians insert Frankie Presto into their musical stories. Very clever. (3/2019)

18. There There by Tommy Orange---All roads converge for eight main characters, all Natives, at the Great Oakland PowWow. Like a circle dance each character gets closer and closer to the others as the climax occurs. I was left reeling after I finished this phenomenal book. I wasn't sure what to think or feel except gratitude that this book exists. (2/2019)
 

19. Where the Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens---This book has a little of everything I like in books: flawed characters, interesting/new-to-me settings, mysteries, and poetry. I loved everything about it. This book has been wildly popular since its publication with over a million ratings and over 100,000 reviews on Goodreads. Don't be the one person who hasn't read it! (1/2019)
 
20. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr---Set during WWII in France and Germany, the story focuses on two children, Marie-Laure and Werner and how their stories converge. The writing and the symbolism are just simply gorgeous. I met Doerr at a book event and he is such a fascinating guy. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize among its many awards. I read it first in 2015 and reread it in August of 2018 in preparation for book club. (8/2018)
 
21. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan---Apparently I spent August of 2018 re-reading favorite books. I originally read Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore in 2013 and loved it then and loved it again five years later. This is another quirky book which has long ago slid off any best-books-list but I still recommend it. What is it about? Super tech of today meets super tech of 500 years ago. (8/2018)

22. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman---This book really spoke to me about the way we treat people whom we don't understand. It also spoke to me about the importance of being a good friend. Of all the books on this list I hope you read this one the most. (7/2018)

23. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel---This is a book I think about every day because I suspect it may become true. It haunts me. It deals with life twenty years after an apocalypse. The writing is pretty spectacular, too, with the author leaving little dragon's teeth along the way which the reader collects as she reads. I first read this in 2015 and reread it in 2018. (7/2018)
 
24. Less by Andrew Sean Greer---Arthur Less is a washed up author and a 50-year-old gay man whose x-boyfriend is getting married. To avoid the misery of attending the wedding Less accepts five literary invitations which will take him around the world. Hilarity and self-awareness ensue. I loved this book and found it to be very funny, but no one else in my book club agreed with me. The difference? I listened to the audiobook, they read the print version. Read my review before you decide. (6/2018)


25.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee---Pachinko is a sweeping saga of a family which takes place first in occupied-Korea and then in Japan from the early 20th century to the late 1980s. The story chronicles the lives of four generations in one family. Like many memorable novels Pachinko resists being summarized. Just let yourself be swept up in the story. (5/2018)
 
26. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward---I wasn't going to add this book to the list because it is such a tough read, that is until I reread my review. Then I knew I HAD to include it. It is a gorgeously written book about dark topics: racism, drug-addiction, unequal justice for Blacks, and the way these have haunted Black people since the beginning of our nation. This is a very heavy read which may haunt you, too. (4/2018)

27. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline---I know this is a niche book, but I really like it with it's quirky plot and characters. It is a throwback to the 1980s when everything was a little bit more innocent and then it jumps forward in time when everything is much more complicated and horrible. First read in 2012, then reread in 2018. The sequel, Ready Player Two, is pretty good. But I liked the first book best and the sequel isn't necessary to enjoy this one. (3/2018)
 
28. True Grit by Charles Portis---An American classic, published in 1968, about a fourteen-year-old girl, Mattie Ross, and her desire to hunt down and bring her father's murderer to justice. Set in the Old West in the 1800s, this is a very American story. After reading True Grit, go watch the movies but not before. But what ever you do, READ THIS BOOK!  (3/2018)

29. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders---This is the only book on my list of favorites which I insist that you listen to the audiobook instead of attempting to read. It is by far the best audiobook I've ever listened to, bar none. Based on actual diaries, articles, and actual quotes from historical documents we learn about the compassion that filled Lincoln after the death of his son, Willie. The audiobook utilizes 166 unique voice actors for the book. It is amazing to listen to. (3/2018)

30. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams---Yep, I reread this classic, zany Sci-Fi novel in 2017 after initially reading it for the first time in my life in 2011. This is one of those books that should not be missed in a lifetime of reading. It is so funny, so out there, that I actually laugh just thinking about it. In 2020 I read the first of five sequels, The Restaurant at the Edge of the Universe, and hope to continue the series this year. My review is from the original 2011 reading. (10/2017)


31.
The News of the World by Paulette Jiles---Set in Post-Civil War Texas. A retired captain agrees to take a young girl, a girl kidnapped by Kiowa, the 400 miles to her only living relatives over rough and dangerous terrain. And the girl doesn't want to go. She wants to stay with her new Kiowa parents. Another book I recommend in the audio format because the print version does not use proper quotations (which really bugs me.) This book is short but has a lot of heart and soul. Read this and then watch the movie. (9/2017)

32. The One-In-A-Million Boy by Monica Wood---I can't even begin to tell you how much I love this book. It is chalk full of quirky characters and odd situations. It is also loving and kind at the same time. (8/2017)
 
33. Ordinary Grace by William Krueger---The word 'grace' plays a big role in this beautifully written coming-of-age tale. This is the only book on the list that I didn't review for some reason. (The link takes you to the Goodreads page.) (8/2017)
 
34. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson---Ursula keeps dying and coming back to life (over and over) at the same starting point. It is confusing yet satisfying to know that our life is all about the decisions we make. This is not a good selection for people who only like to read books presented in a linear fashion. But I found it fascinating. (8/2017)
 
35. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead--- Whitehead wrote this book on this premise: What if the Underground Railroad was a real railroad. This book stands the typical slave narrative story on its head and it is brilliant. Another Pulitzer Prize winner. There is a Netflix series coming out based on this book. Be sure to read the book before watching it! (7/2017)

36. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi---Two sisters in Africa. One becomes the wife of a white man who rounds up slaves. And the other is captured as a slave. Each chapter moves forward a generation for each sister, like a collection of powerful short stories shifting on a timeline. Powerful and heartbreaking. (3/2017)
 

37.
LaRose by Louise Erdrich---The central question of the book: Can a person do the worst possible thing and still be loved? At the hands of a master storyteller, readers explore this question through two Ojibwa families living in the North Dakota. (3/2017)
 
38. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett---I started reading Commonwealth thinking it was a book about divorce and the changing trajectory of lives in the wake of it. But what I came to appreciate was the stories told within the book. Essentially it is a book about how stories connect us, one to the other. (2/2017)
 
39. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen---In a nutshell The Sympathizer is about a nameless captain in the South Vietnam army who is really a double agent and sympathizer of the North. The book begins during the Fall of Saigon, moves to refuge camps, to the USA, and eventually back to Vietnam. The captain, our narrator, is writing the book as a confession. Full of dark humor and new insights into war, this book is not an easy read but worth the effort. I found parts of it to be quite humorous.(10/2016)
 
40. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain---This is  a novelized memoir about Beryl Markham who lived in British East Africa ("before Kenya was Kenya") for most of her life. The story focuses on Markham's early years through her twenties. She tells her story as a remembrance while in the cockpit of her airplane, a plane she is attempting to fly across the Atlantic from East to West in 1936. Spoiler alert, she makes it, well, sort of, and goes on to write her memoir, West with the Night, in 1942. Reading this book started me on a Beryl Markham kick, reading everything she published and then I went on to read other stories set in Kenya, like the memoir: Out of Africa. (6/2016)
 
41. The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz---It is so hard for me to quantify 'favorite' or 'best' when it comes to books. No wonder this list is over 40 books long. That said, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is way up there or maybe actually at the top of the list. The book is nothing short of, umm...wondrous! It is a goofy story, too, about a nerdy, fat Dominican-American boy who just wants a girlfriend but can't find one because of his nerdiness. The book is amazing on so many levels it will take too much space to explain it out here. Go read my review and see if it sounds like something you'd enjoy, too. (1/2016)
 
42. The Yearling by Marjoire Rawlings---Set in the 1800s in Florida this coming-of-age classic tale of a lonely boy and his pet deer will break your heart. This book definitely has staying power, not just since it was written in 1938 but inside me since I read it. It is the only 'classic' on this list. Don't dismiss it out of hand thinking it's just a kid's book. It is so much more. (1/2016)

Notes: 

  • This was a fun exercise for me and instructive, too. Part of the enjoyment came from rereading all my old reviews. I don't do that often and I should since it reminds why I liked a book at the time I finished reading it.  
  • On my Goodreads account I gave 5-star ratings to almost all of the books here, though a few 4-star books snuck onto the list while leaving off several that outranked them. It is such a subjective process. One 5-star book got left off because I couldn't remember anything about it, another because I didn't write a review for it. 
  • I retired in June of 2017. Prior to that date I didn't write as many reviews for the adult books I read instead concentrating more on YA titles. That would explain the low number of books on the list prior to that date.
  • 2018 was a good year for rereading favorites---four.
  • 2019 seems like the best year for chalking up favorites to add to this list. So many good books! 12. Wow.
  • I'm actually surprised that five books made the list from 2020. I had such a strange reading year with COVID-19 and politics dominating my thinking it was hard to concentrate on fiction.
  • 27 of the 42 books on the list were book club selections. I kept asking myself why so many of them came to my attention via this route and I decided it had to do with the discussion. If I get a chance to talk about a book after reading it, I remember more of the plot and characters and often my estimation of the book improves over the course of the meeting.
  • Lastly, there are so many other fantastic books that didn't make this list. In fact, I could add another one for a recently finished book, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, right now. Let's make this a thing. Why don't you create a list of favorite books read the past few years and share it with me. I'd love to find some more great book ideas.

-Anne

10 comments:

  1. Yes, I may get motivated to compiled a handy list of favorite books, like you did. I see we enjoyed some of the same books. If I create a list, I would add in nonfiction too. I love Leif Enger and want to read the book of his on your list.

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    1. Yes. If I added nonfiction titles the list would look very different. I decided to leave them off making room for some of those books I rarely add to my favorites list. It also leaves room for a list of favorite nonfiction titles read in the past five years.

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  2. Such a wonderful list of books! I see many of my favorites on here, which is always nice. I've often wondered if I went back over my 5 star reviews how I would feel about them now.

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    1. I pleased to discover that I still like most of my five-star books. Actually I was more likely to upgrade my four-star books if they have remained happily in my memory.

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  3. This is an excellent list of reads. I agree with your thoughts about all the books I've read on this list, and I'd love to read those I haven't.

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  4. I see very many of my own favorites there. An excellent list!

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  5. This is a great idea! Thanks for sharing. :)

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  6. So many of my favorites are here!! I also see a few that have been on my TBR list for way too long. Thanks for posting the list and I can imagine how much fun you had putting it together.

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  7. I'd be interested to see other lists--favorite YA books, favorite non-fiction books, etc.

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