I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville wife and mother with a passion for family travel, (mostly) healthy cooking, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries with you, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark.
December 30, 2018
It’s been a big year of books around here — This year, I set a goal of 60 books and ended the year having read 67. Yay! I have to admit, it feels good to have made a conscious effort to use my downtime more productively. And while most of the books I read this year were good, there were definitely a few standouts. These are my top ten books of 2018. I’d love it if you’d share some of your favorites of the year in the comments — I’m always looking for more great books!
The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey (5/5 stars)
I can’t imagine a more perfect book to read in winter — The Snow Child has got to be at the top of the list.
I consider this book to be a fairy tale for grown-ups, with elements of both fantasy and brutal realism as a couple struggles to come to terms with childlessness in a harsh 1920s-era Alaska wilderness. When a little girl appears as though carved from the snow, we’re left wondering if she’s a snow child given life from the couple’s most heartfelt desires — or if there’s a rational explanation for her appearance. Either way, the novel is beautifully written and it appealed to me on several levels — as a mother, as a lover of historical fiction, and as someone who has always wanted to visit Alaska and experience its stark beauty for myself.
The Snow Child will leave you with a lump in your throat and a burning desire to book a plane ticket to Alaska, pronto. Highly recommended.
Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens (5/5 stars)
I had heard this novel was good, so I requested and received an ARC from NetGalley. I was not expecting it to be one of the best books I’ve read in a long time! I can’t recommend this one enough. It’s definitely my favorite book of 2018.
Where the Crawdads Sing is a romance. A murder mystery. A coming-of-age tale. A paean to the low country marshes of North Carolina. It drew me in from the very first page, captured my senses with its lyrical, spot-on descriptions of the boggy swamp and marshland (I swear, I could even smell the salt in the air as I read), created a deep connection with the book’s main character, a girl abandoned in the swamps by her family, by those she loved, and by her town, and held my rapt attention until the book’s end, which left me in tears — always the sign of a great book. I would compare Delia Owens to Pat Conroy; if you liked his books, you will definitely love Where the Crawdads Sing. It’s a perfect beach read.
Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset (5/5 stars)
One word to describe this 1144-page trilogy? WOW.
Kristin Lavransdatter is best described as an epic journey through all the phases of a 14th-century Norwegian woman’s life, from headstrong young maiden to passionate wife, fiercely loyal mother, and finally, elderly (for the 1300s, anyway) woman. If you are a wife and mother in particular and aren’t afraid to devote some serious time and effort to a sprawling, multi-layered saga, this trilogy is definitely worth your time — and as others have suggested, the three books really need to be read as a whole.
When I finally finished the final book of the series, I felt like I had been on a long emotional journey back in time, into the heart and soul of Kristin and her family. In Kristin, I saw so many elements of my own past, present, and future and it was truly moving to consider the progression of my own life alongside her own. This trilogy is truly brilliant, particularly considering it was written in the 1920s, and it will fulfill you on so many levels. If you have the patience and desire for a deep dive into great literature, you can’t go wrong with Kristin Lavransdatter.
A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin (5/5 stars)
Let me start by saying I’m not a reader of fantasy novels. Not now, not ever. However, I love the Game of Thrones HBO series so much that I decided to try the novel — I’m so glad I did. If you’ve seen the show, reading the books will only enhance the TV series and mightily impress you with its casting directors, who pretty much NAILED IT across the board. If you haven’t seen the show, I’m betting you’ll still love the book series. George R. R. Martin does an amazing job of creating an entirely new world and making you feel like you’re there, experiencing the same sights, sounds and smells as the characters. You don’t need to be a lover of fantasy to appreciate his talent and incredible imagination.
I’m looking very forward to reading the rest of the series!
Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson (5/5 stars)
No matter where you stand on the death penalty, consider this book a must-read. Bryan Stevenson has devoted his career to helping inmates on death row get their sentences commuted or overturned. He gives us an inside look at America’s prison system and gives voice to the men (and, occasionally, women) who’ve previously only been portrayed by the media as monsters. He exposes the inherent problems of our criminal justice system, and they are problems we should all be worried about, regardless of how we feel about the criminals themselves.
I did not always agree with Stevenson’s assertions. I think his book would have been stronger if he had not painted an entirely sympathetic portrait of every man and woman he covered in this book. Death penalty crimes are typically heinous and shocking and because Stevenson chose to sort of gloss over these crimes, I thought his position was made less credible.
That said, I couldn’t help but admire Stevenson for giving his life to this cause in which he so strongly believes, and for proving the innocence of several men who almost certainly would have died in prison if he hadn’t interceded and reviewed the details of their cases. Stevenson made the excellent point that many — if not most– of our nation’s criminals likely never would have committed their crimes if a caring society had interceded during their youths, when they were subject to poverty and abuse and violence and mental illness and homelessness. Why are we so unwilling to help those most at risk while they can still be helped, and yet so eager to put them away in prisons and mental hospitals when they inevitably crack? It’s definitely something to think about, and it actually prodded me to start volunteering at one of our city’s lowest-performing elementary schools in an effort to contribute even a tiny bit toward solving this huge societal problem.
Read this book. It will make you think, it will make you feel, it will make you angry and it will make you sad. Read this book no matter how you feel about the prison system. Stevenson’s perspective is one we all need to carefully consider.
Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng (5/5 stars)
Ng’s Everything I Never Told You was a big favorite of mine a few years ago and her latest is definitely one of my top books of 2018.
Artist Mia Warren and her teenage daughter Pearl rent a home from the Richardsons, a well-to-do family in the Cleveland suburbs, and they proceed to turn Elena Richardson and her four children’s lives upside down. We know this from the beginning, as the Richardson’s house burns to the ground. We spend the rest of the novel finding out exactly what happened, and why.
Little Fires Everywhere is filled with unexpected twists and turns, but what really makes it special is Ng’s beautiful writing about topics to which many of us can relate, like motherhood, family, friendship, passion, and the deadening quality of the ‘safe’ suburban life. I loved it. I think you’ll like it, too.
Educated, Tara Westover (5/5 stars)
Wow. I have so many thoughts about this book!
This could have been a very typical ‘my childhood was so crazy’ memoir about the strange and disturbing life of a girl from a fundamentalist Mormon family. Tara Westover never received any formal education. She spent her childhood working in her family’s junkyard and preparing for End Times. She endured abuse and neglect from a crazy brother and possibly bipolar father. Her story is worthy of a Jerry Springer episode — but it’s elevated by Westover’s intellect, talent for writing and profound thoughts about her experience.
Westover went on to graduate with honors from Brigham Young University. She did post-graduate work at Cambridge and Harvard and ended with a PhD in history. She widens the perspective of her story so that many of us can relate to her experience on some level and compare her family’s dysfunction to what we may have experienced in our own histories. By realizing that she, as opposed to her father or her brother or her church, is the rightful author and the authoritative voice of her personal history, she reminds us that we can and should be the authors of our histories as well. It seems like an obvious fact on its face, but I suspect most of us have allowed others to dictate how our childhoods played out, even when we knew that narrative was completely flawed.
On this level, I absolutely loved Educated. I was riveted by it.
But there’s something about this story that’s very troubling to me.
Although Westover changed the names of several of her friends and family members, it’s easy to find their real names and many details of their lives online. One could argue that if they didn’t want her to write publicly about them, they shouldn’t have acted the way they did — but while that may be true of her father and brother, for me the boundaries are less clear when it comes to the female family members in her life, most notably her mother, sister, and sister-in-law. One could argue that they are also victims of her father and brother’s rigid belief system (although I do believe her mother absolutely could have and should have stood up for her) and it bothers me that some of the most private and embarrassing details of their lives have been made public without their consent. Tara Westover has no contact with them now — She’s a celebrated author speaking at major events, posing in glamorous photo shoots, and making lots of money. But I can’t help but wonder if she feels a degree of guilt in exposing some of the most vulnerable aspects of her female family members’ lives and then cutting ties with them, offering no help or support as their secrets are exposed.
Regardless, I suspect this book will stay on my mind for years to come. I do hope Tara Westover is able to reunite with her estranged family members (well, maybe not ‘Shawn’) and I hope they are all able to find some peace and understanding for one another. There’s an undercurrent of longing and loss in her writing that’s impossible to ignore, and I suspect that if she’s unable to reconcile with her family, it will be traumatic for her.
Pachinko, Min Jin Lee (5/5 stars)
This ambitious, sweeping saga covers the lives of one family through four generations, starting in 1911 with the daughter of a poor fishing family in Korea and ending with her descendants’ ultimate financial success (but not without high cost) in Japan, eighty years later.
Pachinko is a quiet tale that’s expertly told, drawing you in and intimately connecting you with its characters’ thoughts, struggles, and desires so that when the unexpected happens, it really packs a punch. It explores faith, familial duty, honor, love, and the roles of women and men, both in family life and society at large. It also paints a well-researched portrait of life as a Korean family in Japan in the 20th century. I was fascinated by the real-life struggles of the many Koreans who live in Japan and how they’re viewed by Japanese natives, and I loved reading about the cultures and customs of the area since they’re at times incredibly different from ours in the west. If you found Unbroken to be a fascinating cultural exploration of the United States’ complicated relationship with Japan, then I think Pachinko will be an eye-opening companion. I found myself thinking of Unbroken many times while I was reading this book.
Pachinko now takes a well-deserved spot as one of my top five favorite books of the year.
Last Christmas in Paris, Hazel Gaynor (5/5 stars)
So many hearts and stars for this lovely wartime novel, which is a WWI-era romance told through letters exchanged between a soldier, an intrepid young woman, and the people who surround them. Last Christmas in Paris is a beautiful holiday read, but it really can be enjoyed any time of year. It’s not deep literary fiction, but it’ll give you the romantic historical fiction feels for sure. And have Kleenex ready for the ending — You’ll need them!
One Day in December, Josie Silver (5/5 stars)
I’m actually not a big romance fan in general — but One Day in December will go down as the big exception to this rule. I LOVED THIS BOOK. And I can’t wait to read more books by this author.
From the beginning, I was drawn in by Laurie James, the young heroine trying to find her way in London after graduating from college, and her best friend Sarah. Silver’s descriptive, down-to-earth writing style made me feel like I was right there with them, making sandwiches, nursing hangovers, and laughing about all that had happened the night before. I don’t want to say too much about the love story that’s central to this novel because part of its charm is the many unexpected twists and turns it takes, but I will say it was riveting and unexpected and emotional and sweet and every time I picked this book up, I didn’t want to put it down. When I finally had a relatively free afternoon yesterday, I just sat down and read until I finished it!
You can read One Day in December at any time of year, but it is particularly delicious at Christmas time. I totally recommend it, even if you don’t ordinarily read romance novels.
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