I hadn’t even been thinking about this New Year’s being the end of a decade. And then Melissa said that in addition to her Top Ten of the Year, she was thinking of doing a Top Ten of the Decade. Obviously, I immediately wanted to do it, too. I really enjoyed looking back and what I had kept track of. It turns out that here on this blog I’ve written a list of my favorite books each year since 2010, with the exception of 2011. It appears that 2011 I was very spotty on my reviews and not coincidentally, that’s the year I started keeping track of things on Goodreads. It wasn’t hard, though, to look at 2011 and figure out what I would have picked that year.
Decade at a glance: 2013 and 2014 were the best years. Just SO. MANY. GOOD. BOOKS. This is also the decade where I started reading (and they became very popular) Liane Moriarty, Lisa Jewell (again), Kate Morton, and J. Courtney Sullivan–authors I see now as my tried and true favorites. I also read a lot more YA at the beginning of the decade, which makes sense since I was still profesionally involved in young adult librarianship.
I stayed true to my interests and read a LOT of time travel and WWII fiction. This decade had some stand out trilogies for me too-Hunger Games, Arc of a Scythe, Leviathan.
It’s going to be very very hard to narrow this down, so I think my criteria will be: which of these wonderful books are the ones that I am still thinking about? Which ones really made an impact on me? I’m making my own rules here, so what I’ve come up with is an actual TOP TEN. Followed by a second set of ten that we’ll call the runners up. Really, just as good and still a 5 star book, but getting slightly edged out by these first ten.
In no particular order, my favorite books of the Decade are:
Irresistable Henry House by Lisa Grunwald: This book has stayed with me for sure. Henry was a baby raised by home ec students! Historically fascinating, and then a great story following Henry well into adulthood. I remember I liked the details about his Disney days.
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty: This was the first book I read by her. She wasn’t a popular author in the states yet and I just loved this. I thought it was a great story and I liked her writing and started seeking out all her other books.
Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan: In my initial run through of top books there were THREE by J. Courtney Sullivan. I think she is a great writer and I love how big her stories are. This one probably stayed with me the most-the setting, the Catholicism, the unlikable characters. Just a sweeping great story.
Arc of a Scythe trilogy by Neal Shusterman (Scythe, Thunderhead, The Toll): Since I just finished this two days ago I feel like I’ve been talking about it constantly. This trilogy was fantastic and I know I’ll still think of it well into the next decade. Wonderfully and intelligently well written and constructed paired with a a really exciting story. Plenty to think about in terms of humanity, civilization, religion, technology, and politics-but also just a really ace story.
Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn: So great that I reread it last year and deemed it still wonderful. Some of the other books on this list were big popular hits. This one wasn’t, but for whatever reason it really spoke to me and has stayed with me. Superb.
Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein: Yes, I’m going to count both of these books as one even though they are not really a series. These books were emotionally gutting. In particular I can vividly recall finishing Rose Under Fire on a sunny Saturday morning at the soccer field and crying and crying. I…should have finished it a home. Brutal and inspiring. Verity shows the heroism of a pilot and spy and the strength of friendship and sacrifice. Rose takes you into the most brutal of concentration camps. Highly recommended for everyone.
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton: Another WWII and another author with more than one title on my original list. Her stories can somewhat run together-she’s got a distinctive style. But this one really stood out to me. I loved how the threads of mystery came together (slowly, but surely, it’s a big book) and just found it supremely satisfying and clever, as well as being another great look at life in England during WWII.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan: About a thousand times lighter than the sad WWII books, this book was endless fun. Very popular for good reason and the movie was fun, too. When this first came out my friend and I kept remarking to each other that it was actually super educational. And you know what? It was. A fascinating look deep into another culture-not just Asian culture, but also the uber wealthy.
The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck: Taking it down once again, this heartbreaking and intense novel was amazing. First of all, it showed a time and place that I really hadn’t seen in WWII fiction before–the war is technically over and it’s in Germany. Now what? What of the women left alive? I was fascinated the different characters and stories. Not an easy book to read, but oh so worthwhile.
Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh: I really enjoy her writing style. Blunt? Matter of fact? Something about the way she spins her story pulls me right in. This look at a Pennsylvania coal mining town through a few decades was so interesting to me. Historical fiction that is surely relatable and memorable to people still living, but to me might as well have been another world and time entirely.
This second set is also great, for sure. We’ll call them the runners up.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson: Truthfully I barely remember what the story is about. But I remember the warm feeling of how much I liked it, as well as one particular scene that, like Henry Himself, was a small detail of ordinariness that spoke volumes about simple pleasures in life. (In fact, Maine also carries a similar detail. A character responding to someone who feels that she put too much effort into a tray with a cup of tea and something to eat on it by saying it was exactly the right amount of effort. That the small things in life are worth doing nicely, even if, perhaps especially if, they are for oneself.)
Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz: I just remember loving this.
Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis: WWII again. Bumping it down to tier 2 because these books are big and long and full of historically accurate detail that is probably boring to a lot of people. It’s like being in a museum. I felt like I time traveled when I read these. (Oh and there’s time travel in these,so…)
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton: A fantastic Morton story mostly taking place in Australia. I was captivated by how the pieces of this story fit together.
The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan: “A diamond is forever.” That marketing slogan and how it was created is the basis for this book, which I found a fascinating premise. Lots in here about a powerful career woman and a really engaging (ha ha) story.
Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan: This one is perhaps more similar to Maine with family saga and drama, with the added appeal of a cloistered nun. Also, as a story about young women emigrating from Ireland I really liked learning about that.
I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson: This book was such a surprise to me. Thought it would be fluff, but in fact it was a great all around well written novel. It stuck with me.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: YA? Adult? A book everyone can love. Loaded with 80s pop culture references this is a wonderful fun and clever story. The film, sadly, did not do it justice.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: This was a divisive book in my reading circle of friends. Personally, I loved it. I thought it was amazingly well written-the structure of the story trying one life after another trying to get it right. Seeing so many alternative timelines (in WWII) was just incredible.
A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman: Ove is a character I won’t soon forget. Cranky and depressed, determined to die. And yet, this was a heartwarming and even funny (!) story.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: Not funny. Another gutwrenching WWII novel. Like Women in the Castle I felt this story was giving me an interesting perspective of the era that I hadn’t read a lot about. But it involves the French Resistance so you know it’s going to be really sad. And it was. But of course also heartwarming.
I’m going to finish up by mentioning yet another WWII book: The War that Saved My Life and its sequel, The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. These are children’s books and they were the best children’s WWII fiction I’ve ever read. A crippled and abused girl is a London evacuee to the countryside where she is paired with a sad woman. I both read and listened to it on audio and the audio made it even more intensely emotional. Wonderful books for children who want to grow up and read all the grown up WWII books I like.
[Update: It’s 4 days later and I have to add two more because I can’t bear the thought of leaving them off this list of memorable fantastic books of the decade: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by Ryan Stradal and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Both of these books were great stories and wonderfully well written. I especially admired the structure of Kitchens.]
And there you have it!
Would be fun to look back in another 10 years and see if these books are ones I am still returning to, or have read again since, or if the authors continue to be ones I admire.
Here’s to another decade of great books!
P.S. And if you’re interested, here’s the list I was working with and whittling down
2010 Dies the Fire, Candymakers, Revolution, The Help, The Lonely Polygamist, One Day, Irresistable Henry House, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Admission
2011 [Apparently in 2011 I didn’t make a top 10 list and posted only occasionally.] All Clear, Goliath, Scorpia Rising, Wonderstruck, Maine, I Think I Love You, Started Early Took My Dog, Three Wishes, What Alice Forgot, The Penderwicks, Leviathan, Behemoth, Shipbreaker, Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, Forgotten Garden, Cleaning Nabokov’s House, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Book of a Thousand Days
2012Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, Code Name Verity, Hypnotist’s Love Story, Ready Player One, Scorpio Races, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, The Fault in Our Stars, I’ll Be There,
2013The Engagements, The Husband’s Secret, Rose Under Fire, Life After Life, Where’d You Go Bernadette, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, The Secret Keeper
2014Crazy Rich Asians, House We Grew Up In, Before I Met You, Eleanor and Park, Hundred Year House, Big Little Lies, Fangirl, Rosie Project
2015 The Lake House, A Man Called Ove, My Real Children, A Spool of Blue Thread, The Nightingale, The Rocks, Replay
2016 In the Unlikely Event, Miss you, Scythe, War That Saved My Life
2017 War I Finally Won, Saints for All Occasions, Time and Time Again, Dear Fahrenheit 451, Standard Deviation, Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
2018 Kitchens of the Great Midwest, The Women in the Castle, Baker Towers, How Hard Can It Be?