I read 60 books this year, and there were so many standout titles I feel blessed with an embarrassment of riches. However, I’ve narrowed it down to my top 10 that I can wholeheartedly recommend. These weren’t just fantastic stories, but ones I find myself revisiting in my head or telling others about most often.
10 – The House of Eve by Sadeqa Johnson: What a powerhouse of a book! There is so much to unpack here: racism, colorism, classism, reproductive rights, female ambition; matriarchal families, mother/child relationships… but at its heart are two amazing young women, Ruby and Eleanor, who will capture your heart and have you rooting for them to not just persevere but ultimately triumph. It’s a riveting, heartbreaking, unputdownable read that will stay with you long after the book is over!
9 – Things Past Telling by Sheila Williams: This is a spellbinding, gorgeous page-turner that paints an intimate portrait of Maryam’s life – all 100+ years of it. Incredible attention to dialect and diction and exacting pacing made for an immersive experience…from the first page right to the last. This is a story about a woman who was enslaved but not defined by slavery, who had adventures and used her talents to better her life even in the direst circumstances. It’s a story of love and loss, of joy and sorrow, and demonstrates why we need #ownvoices authors to write these stories so they are not lost.
8 – The Paris Daughter by Kristin Harmel: THE PARIS DAUGHTER examines the power, strength, and frailty of motherhood through Elise, Juliette, and Ruth, women who suffer during WW2 for various reasons but are bound together through their roles as mothers. Until disaster strikes, changing everything forever. It’s a story about lives being shattered and then finding the pieces and putting them back together again – just as Harmel broke my heart and mended it in the end. My favorite title of Harmel’s to date, and simply breathtaking.
7 – A Botanist’s Guide to Flowers and Fatality by Kate Khavari: All the things to love about a Victorian mystery – but set in 1920s London! We have a women in a STEM profession who is also our sleuth, a delicious mystery where the victims were sent poisonous flowers before their deaths, and a love triangle because who doesn’t love a smart, capable woman? Saffron Everleigh is a botanist studying poisonings with her research partner, Dr. Lee. When she’s asked to help with a current investigation, she and Lee descend into a shady social circle filled with drug abuse and dysfunction. The closer they get to solving the murders, the more Saffron finds herself in danger.
6 – A Dreadful Splendour by B.R. Meyers: What an amazing read! Full of twists and turns, fast-paced and tightly plotted, A DREADFUL SPLENDOUR kept me guessing right to the very end! A haunted estate, a spiritualist on the run, and a murder to solve drive this story to a surprising conclusion, especially when an unexpected arrival (or 2!) to the final seance sends the stakes soaring. Brilliantly done, and highly recommend!
5 – Angels of the Resistance by Noelle Salazar: A gripping and unflinching story that explores the lengths Resistance fighters would go to to fight back, as well as the physical and emotional toll on those involved. We meet Lien and Elief when they are fourteen and sixteen, and Salazar does a brilliant job of making us care for two girls who are concerned with typical teenage things: school, boys, family, a social life. The sisters are “eased” into the resistance movement with non-voilent tasks, but before long they are training for tougher missions. It’s brilliantly done, shining a light on the bonds of family, the courage of fighting back, and the long-reaching consequences of doing the right thing no matter the personal cost. Absolutely riveting and unputdownable!
4 – The Paris Housekeeper by Renee Ryan: THE PARIS HOUSEKEEPER is a riveting tale of risk and redemption. Within the glamorous walls of the Ritz, Vivian secretly helps Jews obtain false papers to escape France. But when the Paris occupation begins, and Nazis move into the hotel, her strategy must change. To anyone outside looking in, she’s a Nazi sympathizer. But Camille, one of the housemaids, knows her secret, and together they hatch a plan to save another maid, Rachel, by hiding her – right under the Nazis’ noses. Full of danger, bravery, resilience, and sacrifice, the story tension builds until the very last moment in this WW2 page turner.
3 – Only the Beautiful by Susan Meissner: Harrowing, brave, resilient, and stunning, ONLY THE BEAUTIFUL paints a bleak and sometimes brutally honest picture of what humanity does to justify its hateful actions. It tackles the topic of eugenics not only in Germany, where it’s easy to point a finger at the villain in the 1940s, but also in the US long after the war is over. With two incredibly likeable heroines, we are taken on a journey that is painful yet somehow never loses its hope. It’s brilliantly done, with an ending that is absolutely perfect.
2 – The Porcelain Moon by Janie Chang: Simply beautiful writing, wonderful characters and a compelling plot will keep you turning the pages in this story that breathes life into a part of history that has been untold for too long. With a backdrop of World War 1 and the Chinese Labour Corps in France, we fall in love with Pauline, whose uncle owns an antique shop in Paris, and who is destined to be sent back to Shanghai to be married; we feel for Theo, who is also burdened with the weight of expectation and tradition; and it’s impossible not to root for Camille, a young wife who is desperate to escape an abusive marriage. Obedience wars with personal autonomy, family expectations with a search for happiness, and Chang examines the lengths people will go to to find their own lives.
1 – The Cuban Heiress by Chanel Cleeton: My first by Cleeton and absolutely not my last! I loved this story so much – I didn’t want to put it down! The setting is both glamorous and mysterious – the opulence of the Morro Castle ship as it cruises from NYC to Cuba and back again, and the steamy heat and dark corners of Havana, giving it film noir vibes. Our main characters, Catherine and Elena, are themselves enigmatic and not what they seem, and the author does an outstanding job of peeling back the layers of character, which in turn ratchets up the tension of the mystery in a perfect pace. It all builts to a fever pitch as the ship nears its destination, only to founder in a storm – a true event that provides the perfect backdrop for the climax. One of my favorite parts is the relationship between Catherine and Harry, which is so perfectly 1930s and “Bogart-ish”.
There were so many other amazing stories by Bryn Turnbull, Beatriz Williams, Madeline Martin, Julia Kelly and more on my list – so if you want to see all my reviews you can check out my Goodreads challenge at https://www.goodreads.com/user_challenges/39648837!