Six Book Club Books I Loved Last Year
01 Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
In Olive, Again, she ambles through town and reflects on aging, on her life, and especially on memories of moments that shaped her life’s direction, her attitude, her viewpoint—and those of the people close to her.
Because this is the character of Olive from Olive Kitteridge, these are not saccharine snippets of wisdom from a warm, cozy grandmother. The moments are sometimes sour, sometimes regretful, sometimes heartbreaking, but often lovely in their rough honesty. I could spend days reading about her introspection and her gruff and straightforward ways.
I received an advance copy of this book from Random House through NetGalley.
02 The River by Peter Heller
Low-key best friends Jack and Wynn have taken many challenging outdoor expeditions together. They're skilled and joyful adventurers. But when a wildfire rages near where they're canoeing the Maskwa River in northern Canada, everything turns upside down.
Oh, Peter Heller! The details of running the Canadian river, traveling and camping, and Jack and Wynn's friendship itself all hooked me completely.
The final scenes were exquisitely painful and beautiful and really hit me hard.
03 Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera
I worried during the first chapter that Gertrude was going to feel like a caricature of a backwoods Southern woman. But she and the other characters were developed fully. And although the three interconnected women faced sometimes staggeringly tragic challenges, Spera injects some moments of joy—often related to their relationships to each other.
You can see where one of the storylines is going before the character involved understands it, and it might make your blood boil to see the evil situation go on unchecked. And I wasn’t sure I bought into the reasoning for a character’s drastic and sudden turnaround in thinking—it seemed that she’d had reminders of this reasoning without being inspired to shift course.
But the details of cooking, surviving, race relations, and life in 1924 South Carolina were wonderful, and I still think about this book although I read it some time ago.
For my full review of this book, please see Call Your Daughter Home.
04 The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman
The world is unraveling on the cusp of World War II, and three strong women will be tested beyond anything they imagined before the end of the war and the end of the book.
The strong, gruff Hanni has a heart of gold; young Ettie is idealistic and grows to be tough as nails yet capable of deep love; and the heartbreakingly loyal golem Ava becomes satisfyingly powerful.
This was a beautiful book. The golem and heron and other ethereal elements could have been distracting, but they worked.
I was most struck by the character-driven WWII stories, which were haunting and lovely. Hoffman made me feel anchored to the characters so that the emotions, concerns, and life-and-death decisions the women grappled with in 1941 felt immediate and relevant.
For my full review, please see The World That We Knew.
05 Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come by Jessica Pan
Jessica Pan was an introvert out of a job. Her closest friends had moved away, and she found herself lonely, living in another country, and feeling too reliant on her husband for her entire social life.
Pan decided to deliberately put herself into extremely uncomfortable social situations for a year, and she fully commits. She does improv, approaches strangers on the Tube, goes on friend dates, attends networking events, takes a vacation alone (to a destination she doesn't learn until she's at the airport), and more. She regrets her one-year plan almost instantly but feels compelled to continue her terrifying exercises.
Pan is wonderfully honest, appealingly thoughtful, and often so so funny. I was so happy spending time in her point of view throughout this book. I loved it and I'd read another book by her in a second.
For my full review of this book, please see Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come.
6 Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
I loved this book. I kept thinking about it while I was doing other things, and I just wanted to get back to Edward to find out how things were going.
This story was so much more than I expected, but thankfully Napolitano didn’t rely solely on her book’s promising premise. She wrote the hell out of this and created an irresistible and true-feeling character in Edward.
Nothing is too easy here, nor is it ever melodramatic in Napolitano’a hands.
Edward tries on the mantle of taking responsibility for every life lost; he wallows in the despair of others and their hopes that he will pursue their loved ones’ lost dreams and right their wrongs; then he messily works out how to create his own lucky, unshackled, truest life.
I was given an advance reader’s copy of this book by Random House Publishing Group and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. For my full review, please see Dear Edward.
What are some of your favorite book club books?
I was going to say that I try not to be overly Bossy in my book club, but that is a big lie that's making me laugh as I type it. We used to brainstorm book ideas for the following year and then, honestly, I would push through my own choices. But you should see the extensive spreadsheets of potential titles that my book club friends now patiently and kindly wade through to cast their votes for the coming year. We've been happily meeting monthly for about fourteen years now, so let's just say we're all clear on who and what we're dealing with at this point.
Oddly, there is only one World War II book and there are zero Alaska books on this list--I am constantly trying to work these into our reading list--which is currently making me question everything about myself and my own reading habits.