Two things hold true at the end of each year: all book bloggers must, by federal mandate, post a “Top Ten Books of the Year!” list on their blogs, and all of us whether book bloggers or not still have holiday shopping to do. So why not combine the two? Here are the top eleven books I read this year (why eleven? I’m bored with ten), and the Christmas stockings you should consider filling with these titles!
1. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs. One of those rare smartly-written kid books so creative and quirky that adults die for it too. Eerie real-life photographs weave seamlessly into this story of a boy who discovers a mysterious time-loop full of children with astonishing powers–not to mention the creatures who hunt them. Buy for: that whip-smart kid in your life, be it the young son with his nose in the book or the little girl with the quirky imagination you used to baby-sit for. The one you someday suspect might develop the ability to read minds or walk through walls.
2. The Edwardians, by Vita Sackville-West. A delicious high-tea-and-big-hats read about a handsome young Duke and his bohemian sister as they struggle to find love and happiness in pre-WWI England. Buy for: your madly Anglophile mum. This should see her through till Season 3 of Downton Abbey begins.
3. The Sister Queens, by Sophie Perinot. A warm and perceptive study of two beautiful heiresses who respectively marry the Kings of France and England–think a high-Medieval version of the Middleton sisters. If you like your historical sister drama real and not reduced to the hissing-spitting-catfighting variety of The Other Boleyn Girl, then this book is for you.
Buy for: your sister, duh. Book a long lunch afterward for the inevitable argument, “So, you’re totally Queen Marguerite, and I’m Queen Eleanor.” “No way, I’m the younger sister so I’m Eleanor . . .” Bonus: if you have more than one sister, stuff their stockings with Sherry Jones’s Four Sisters, All Queens, which tackles the younger pair of sisters in the family too.
4. Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. A riveting edge-of-your-seat World War II thriller about a young female spy weaving a tapestry of lies when she is caught by the Gestapo, and the courageous little pilot who must finish her friend’s mission on her own. This is true girl-power; a tale of female friendship and female courage that will knock your socks off. Buy for: that teenage niece you’re desperately trying to wean off Twilight. Expect her next text to read “OMG, I would SO TOTALLY join the French Resistance!!!” rather than “Team Jacob 4-Ever!!!”
5. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. A seemingly perfect marriage reveals itself as a nest of horrors when a beautiful wife goes missing on her anniversary. Twists, turns, and riveting characters galore.
Buy for: your uncle who just divorced that psycho ex-wife. He’ll be cheered by the thought that no wife is as psycho as the one in this book.
6. The Queen’s Vow, by C.W. Gortner. Isabella of Castile is commonly vilified as fanatic and bigot: Her Catholic Majesty who expelled the Jews from Spain and unleashed the Inquisition on her people. But Gortner gently humanizes this daunting figure as the beleagured princess grimly clinging to her faith and her future in a world that wants to kill her.
Buy for: your historical fiction-addict BFF who complains there’s nothing in the genre anymore but Tudor stuff. The setting here is Renaissance Spain in all its bloody, complex glory.
7. The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer. The gorgeous saga of a Hungarian Jewish family on the brink of WWII. Not just another harrowing Holocaust tale; this fabulous read is a paean to life, love, family, humor, tragedy, and everything in between.
Buy for: your grandma recovering from her knee surgery. She may comment, as my grandma did, “It sure puts things into perspective. My knee may hurt like hell, but at least I’m not being loaded into a cattle car.”
8. The Flower Reader, by Elizabeth Loupas. Mercurial queens, secret societies of assassins, a heroine who can read the future in flowers, and a hero with eyeliner–not many authors could assemble a story so fun, so poignant, and so satisfying out of such disparate elements, but Elizabeth Loupas sure can. This is her second novel, proving she has dodged the sophomore slump and is on the historical fiction scene to stay, and as a major talent.
Buy for: your aunt who just got back from that walking tour of Scotland. She’ll swoon for the heroine’s castle by the sea, let alone her hero in his plaids.
9. Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold. The latest space-opera romp in Bujold’s breezy, humorous, and sometimes harrowing Vorkosigan Saga. This one focuses on the hero’s charming playboy cousin Ivan, who surrenders his bachelor status to help a damsel in distress–kind of like a Regency Romance but with bounty hunters and space-ships thrown in with the crusty dowagers and arranged marriages. Pure fun, like all Bujold’s books, setting her a cut above in what can be a deadly-serious genre.
Buy for: the office nerd you drew for Secret Santa. This’ll hook him on the Vorkosigan series, and you’ll never have to hear another word about Star Trek.
10. 11/22/63, by Stephen King. A doorstopper of a book that narrows a tense and terrifying lens on the immortal question “Who killed Kennedy?” A 21st century schoolteacher finds a mysterious portal back in time, and decides to stop the Kennedy assassination . . . but what if he succeeds?
Buy for: your dad, who not only remembers the Kennedy assassination, but has his own set of conspiracy theories about whodunit.
11. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach. A quirky and beautiful tale of small-town college life, focusing around a baseball team gunning for a championship, a star shortstop with a crisis of confidence, a college president blindsided by an unexpected romance, and his daughter trying to re-align her life after a disastrous marriage.
Buy for: your sports-addicted husband who claims he doesn’t like to read. He’ll eat up the baseball in this book before he realizes he’s also getting a coming of age story, a poignant romance, and a gorgeous drama.