My Bookshelf

Warrior Librarian

I was once dubbed Warrior Librarian, and I glommed onto that title like french breads gloms on to my thighs. I love the idea of being a story keeper, a fierce protector of reading, and sharing brilliant stories I’ve read with others.

So… in that vein, here are my top-rated fiction & memoir books by year, with a short description from Amazon (unless otherwise noted). I intend for this to be a juicy place for sharing not just my faves, but yours too. Please join in on the conversation via comments at the bottom of the page.

A Note:

  • Some years were better reading years than others. There are years I’ve read 50+ books, and years I’ve read 3. All based, of course, on what was happening in my life during those times. Divorcing, 2000-mile moves, and starting a new career will do that to ya.
  • Some years I have read a whole slew of gems. Other years I’ve read a whole lot and they’ve only dimly sparkled for me.
  • I’ve only included books I’ve given 5 stars to. But stars are relative and kinda bullshit, really. I would rather say I LOVED these books, but this list doesn’t include books I really, really liked, or books that I just really liked. These are books I would consider marrying and having book babies with.
  • Whether or not I like a book is totally personal. As it is with all readers. I can pick up the most well-written, rolickingly good story, and because it has one errant zombie, I won’t like it. Love of books is more personal than almost anything in the world. Just sayin’.

2016

“Anita Moorjani relates how, after fighting cancer for almost four years, her body – overwhelmed by the malignant cells spreading throughout her system – began shutting down. As her organs failed, she entered into an extraordinary near-death experience where she realized her inherent worth . . . and the actual cause of her disease.”

This book was such an utter delight. Of course, I have a real soft spot for magical realism. Think Life of Pi for children. Exquisite.

“The National Book Award Winner and #1 New York Times bestseller from Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South.”

I consumed this book like I used to consume Stoli O with cranberry juice and a wedge of orange when I, too, was trying not to feel so much. I highlighted half the book. It’s a game-changer, a heart opener and a serum of truth that will leave you dizzy.

This might just be my favorite science fiction novel since Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow. I certainly won’t be forgetting it any time soon. It felt fresh, original, and I loved what it had to say to me about life purpose and passion. It’s a gorgeous work for sure.

I adored this book. A. Dored. Every sentence felt like it vibrated with power, and what Grange Copeland had to say about the world felt “epic” – in the true sense of that word. I’ve always loved the movie “The Color Purple,” but I hadn’t read Walker. I’ll be reading more, for sure.

Really unique story of slavery set on a plantation in Virginia well before the Civil War where a young white indentured servant from Ireland is placed in the kitchen house to serve. It was hard to put this one down. The characters each felt so distinct. Really loved this story.

2015

“Witty, magical, and romantic, The Crane Wife is a story of passion and sacrifice, that resonates on the level of dream and myth.  It is a novel that celebrates the creative imagination, and the disruptive power of love.”

“Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.”

“This deeply moving tale of unlikely love traces the journey of [two] very different women as each searches for freedom and dignity.”

“Yangsze Choo’s stunning debut, The Ghost Bride, is a startlingly original novel infused with Chinese folklore, romantic intrigue, and unexpected supernatural twists.”

“An intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.”

“Adult readers will be totally charmed by this fearless, funny, and unflappable kid sleuth. But don’t be fooled: this carefully plotted detective novel…features plenty of unexpected twists and turns and loads of tasty period detail.”

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.”

“A chilling thriller that brilliantly blends domestic drama, psychological suspense, and a touch of modern horror, reminiscent of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In, and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.” ~ Amazon

2014

“Raw, dark, and powerful . . . Southern Gothic at its best. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake puts one in mind of Erskine Caldwell and Flannery O’Connor.” ~Fannie Flagg

The Goldfinch is a mesmerizing, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.”

“This radical retelling of the greatest story ever told brings Mary Magdalene to life-not as a prostitute or demon-possessed-but as an educated woman who was truly the “apostle to the apostles.”

“As close to flawless as any reader could ask for and any writer could hope for and aspire to … The living language Allison has created is as exact and innovative as the language of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye . . . Simply stunning.” ~ The New York Times Book Review

(This is a sequel, folks.) “So if historical fiction is your meat, here’s a rare treat. A feast of conflicts and struggles among religious authority, royal governance, the powerful unions (or guilds) of the day and the peasantry…With World Without End, Follett proves his Pillars may be a rarity, but it wasn’t a fluke.” ~ New York Post

(While not necessarily a sequel, this book is interconnected with three others, folks. However, you can read them as standalone… Or, you can consume all of them within a matter of days like I did.) “Ruiz Zafón takes us into a dark, gothic Barcelona and creates a breathtaking tale of intrigue, romance, and tragedy.”

(This book is #2.5 in Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicles. In the beginning of this book Rothfuss advises folks not to read it. I disagree wholeheartedly. Think of it as a character study, you writers out there. And consider, as you read, the energy of “stuff.”) “The Slow Regard of Silent Things is the story of a broken girl trying to live in a broken world.”

2013 & 2012

(This is a sequel, folks.) “Taking up where The Witches of Eileanan left off, we find Meghan o’ the Beasts and her young charge Isabeau, outcasts in a land where magic has been outlawed.”

(This is a sequel, folks.) “The joy that Harkness, herself a historian, takes in visiting the past is evident on every page. . . . A great spell, the one that can enchant a reader and make a 600-page book fly through her fingertips, is cast. . . . Its enduring rewards are plenty.” ~ Entertainment Weekly.

2011

“A novel at once comic and tragic that probes the nature of madness and sanity, authority and vitality. Greeted by unanimous acclaim when it was first published, the book has become and enduring favorite of readers.”

(This is book one of a trilogy, folks.) “Harkness has created a universe to rival those of Anne Rice, Diana Gabaldon, and Elizabeth Kostova, and she adds a scholar’s depth to this riveting tale of magic and suspense.”

(This is book two, ahem… Day Two, of one of the best trilogies I’ve ever read. Ever, folks. Someone else agrees —>) “The best epic fantasy I read last year… I gulped it down in a day, staying up almost to dawn reading, and I am already itching for the next one. He’s bloody good, this Rothfuss guy.” ~ George R. R. Martin

(This is book two of a series, folks. What? Never heard of it? You been living under a rock?) “A Clash of Kings transports us to a world of revelry and revenge, wizardry and warfare unlike any you have ever experienced.”

2010

What’s to say? This is one of my all-time favorite classics. Through Socrates, Plato talks about reincarnation, and learning as recollecting – things that have always resonated in my soul.

Kingsolver is a master at characterization.  Poisonwood Bible is “a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.”

(This is book two of a series, folks.) “Complex, innovative, and deeply moral, this quintessential fantasy sequence has been compared with the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and has helped make Le Guin one of the most distinguished fantasy and science fiction writers of all time.”

(This is book three of a series, folks.) “Complex, innovative, and deeply moral, this quintessential fantasy sequence has been compared with the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and has helped make Le Guin one of the most distinguished fantasy and science fiction writers of all time.”

(This is book one of a trilogy, folks.) “[The Hunger Games] is a violent, jarring, speed-rap of a novel that generates nearly constant suspense… I couldn’t stop reading.” — Stephen King, Entertainment Tonight

(This is book two of a trilogy, folks.) “[The Hunger Games] is a violent, jarring, speed-rap of a novel that generates nearly constant suspense… I couldn’t stop reading.” — Stephen King, Entertainment Tonight

(This is book three of a trilogy, folks.) “[The Hunger Games] is a violent, jarring, speed-rap of a novel that generates nearly constant suspense… I couldn’t stop reading.” — Stephen King, Entertainment Tonight

(This book is part of a series. It’s called Book Four, but is actually a prequel, in a sense, to the outrageously awesome Bartimaeus Series.) Bartimaeus is one of my all-time favorite characters in literature. He has the perfect level of snark and sass.

2009

(This is book three of a trilogy, folks.)”Bequiling…skillful…the story seems to be sprinkled with some magical fairy dust.” – The New York Times Book Review

“A terrific debut novel . . . a captivating thriller of the hidden powers of women throughout the centuries.” ~ Boston Globe

“Some extraordinary rats come to the aid of a mouse family in this Newbery Medal Award-winning classic by notable children’s author Robert C. O’Brien.”

“Published in 1845 to quell doubts about his origins — since few slaves of that period could write — the Narrative is admired today for its extraordinary passion, sensitive and vivid descriptions and storytelling power.”

“[Fenton Johnson] marries his eye for detail with graceful writing to tell the story of a survivor who has had the gift of time to reflect on his own love story. — The New York Times Book Review, Ted Loos”

Regardless of how you might feel about Obama as a President (I adore him), he is a gifted and lyrical writer, and I loved this book like crazy.

One of my top ten books of all time. If you haven’t read it, get thee to the bookstore posthaste. You won’t be disappointed.

“A tale that is convincing, suspenseful and touching.” ~ The New York Times

2008

“A literary thriller with commercial legs, this stunning debut is bound to be a bestseller.” (Publishers Weekly *starred review*

“A tragic, spiritual portrait of a perfect English butler and his reaction to his fading insular world in post-war England. A wonderful, wonderful book.”

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde depicts the gripping struggle of two opposing personalities—one essentially good, the other evil—for the soul of one man.”

Geek Love throws its sulfurous light on our notions of the freakish and the normal, the beautiful and the ugly, the holy and the obscene. Family values will never be the same.”

“A glorious account of a magnificent adventure, filled with suspense and seasoned with a quiet humor that is irresistible . . . All those, young or old, who love a fine adventurous tale, beautifully told, will take The Hobbit to their hearts.” – New York Times Book Review

“The Great Holy Book of science fiction.”  —Locus

“The first and most terrifying monster in English literature, from the great early epic BEOWULF, tells his side of the story.”

“A twelfth-century tale of the building of a mighty Gothic cathedral—stunned readers and critics alike with its ambitious scope and gripping humanity.”

2007

“Gilbert’s prose is fueled by a mix of intelligence, wit and colloquial exuberance that is close to irresistible.”~ The New York Times Book Review

(Book 7 of J.K. Rowling’s most brilliant series.) “The journey is hard, filled with events both tragic and triumphant, the battlefield littered with the bodies of the dearest and despised, but the final chapter is as brilliant and blinding as a phoenix’s flame, and fans and skeptics alike will emerge from the confines of the story with full but heavy hearts, giddy and grateful for the experience.” ~ Daphne Durham

“A sweeping story of family, love, and friendship told against the devastating backdrop of the history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years, The Kite Runner is an unusual and powerful novel that has become a beloved, one-of-a-kind classic.”

Life of Pi could renew your faith in the ability of novelists to invest even the most outrageous scenario with plausible life.”— The New York Times Book Review

(Book 3 of the Bartimaeus trilogy) Not just any trilogy, but one of my favorites in all the land. Bartimaeus is such a brilliant character. Get ready to laugh out loud.

(Book 2 of the Bartimaeus trilogy) “How can books two and three possibly top the adventures here? Well, you’d need to steal a scrying glass . . .” ~ The New York Times Book Review

“Zusak doesn’t sugarcoat anything, but he makes his ostensibly gloomy subject bearable the same way Kurt Vonnegut did in Slaughterhouse-Five: with grim, darkly consoling humor.” ~ Time Magazine

2006

“A contagiously funny, heartwarming, shocking, twisted, and absolutely magical collection. True stories that give voice to the thoughts we all have but dare not mention.”

I have the illustrated version of this book and I’m so in love with it. “Read the book and be enlightened.”
~The Washington Post Book World

“A dazzling blend of social commentary, tall tale and magic realism.” ~ Publishers Weekly *Starred Review*

“Some of it is sad, some of it is hilarious, some of it is unbelievable, and all of it is charming.” ~ The Atlantic

The Sea of Trolls blends ancient history and Norse epics with recognizable bits of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.” ~ The New York Times

2005

“A literary sensation and runaway bestseller, this brilliant debut novel tells with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism the true confessions of one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha.”

(Book 1 in the Bartimaeus trilogy) “Set in a modern-day London controlled by magicians, this hilarious, electrifying thriller will enthrall readers of all ages.”

(Book 6 in J.K. Rowling’s brilliant series.) “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince takes up the story of Harry Potter’s sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry at this point in the midst of the storm of this battle of good and evil.”

2004 & 2003

“A hallucinatory fantasia of mystery, mythology, and terror that ‘draws equally from George Lucas, Monty Python, Doctor Who, and John Milton’ (USA Today), Neverwhere is an ‘Alice in Wonderland with a punk edge’ (Poppy Z. Brite), ‘that is both the stuff of dreams and nightmares.’ (San Diego Union-Tribune).

“Strange…marvelous… Stardust takes us back to a time when the world was more magical, and, real or not, that world is a charming place.” ~ Philadelphia Inquirer

(Book 5 of J.K. Rowling’s wonderful series.) “In his fifth year at Hogwart’s, Harry faces challenges at every turn, from the dark threat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and the unreliability of the government of the magical world to the rise of Ron Weasley as the keeper of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team. Along the way he learns about the strength of his friends, the fierceness of his enemies, and the meaning of sacrifice.”

2002

“When Framboise Simon returns to a small village on the banks of the Loire, the locals do not recognize her as the daughter of the infamous woman they hold responsible for a tragedy during the German occupation years ago. But the past and present are inextricably entwined, particularly in a scrapbook of recipes and memories that Framboise has inherited from her mother. And soon Framboise will realize that the journal also contains the key to the tragedy that indelibly marked that summer of her ninth year.”

“In Winter Range, the intimate details of ranching and small-town life are woven into the suspenseful story of three people struggling to survive, to belong, and to love in the chillingly bleak landscape of eastern Montana.” ~ Amazon

“[A] wonderfully strange story…an unflinching portrait of a way of life indebted to nature.” ~ Louise Jarvis, The New York Times Book Review

“What is the cost of leaving a country, a child, a marriage? What is the cost of not leaving? These are the questions at the heart of The Language of Good-bye, Maribeth Fischer’s powerful and provocative debut novel. ” ~ Amazon

“History and fiction merge seamlessly in this luminous novel about artistic vision and sensual awakening. Girl with a Pearl Earring tells the story of sixteen-year-old Griet, whose life is transformed by her brief encounter with genius . . . even as she herself is immortalized in canvas and oil. ” ~ Amazon

“A vibrant, sumptuous novel…triumphant…a beautifully written tale that mirrors the elegance of the painting that inspired it.” ~ The Wall Street Journal

“Fans of Douglas Adams and P. G. Wodehouse will love visiting Jasper Fforde’s Great Britain, circa 1985, when time travel is routine, cloning is a reality…and literature is taken very, very seriously: it’s a bibliophile’s dream. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next… But when someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature and plucks Jane Eyre from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday is faced with the challenge of her career.” ~ Amazon

“Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.” ~ Amazon

“When Lily’s fierce-hearted black “stand-in mother,” Rosaleen, insults three of the town’s most vicious racists, Lily decides they should both escape to Tiburon, South Carolina—a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. There they are taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters who introduce Lily to a mesmerizing world of bees, honey, and the Black Madonna who presides over their household. This is a remarkable story about divine female power and the transforming power of love…” ~ Amazon

“Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.” ~ Amazon

“An unlikely pair, George and Lennie, two migrant workers in California during the Great Depression, grasp for their American Dream. They hustle work when they can, living a hand-to-mouth existence. For George and Lennie have a plan: to own an acre of land and a shack they can call their own. When they land jobs on a ranch in the Salinas Valley, the fulfillment of their dream seems to be within their grasp. But even George cannot guard Lennie from the provocations, nor predict the consequences of Lennie’s unswerving obedience to the things George taught him.” ~ Amazon

“Hermux Tantamoq is an average mouse who works in his watch shop by day and spends his evenings at home with Terfle, his pet ladybug. But all that changes when Linka Perflinger, daredevil aviatrix, steps into his shop, drops off her watch for repair, and walks out with Hermux’s heart. When a shady-looking rat tries to claim Linka’s watch, Hermux knows that something must be terribly wrong, and embarks on a dramatic quest to find her…” ~ Amazon

“For a thousand years men have denied her existence–Pope Joan, the woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to rule Christianity for two years. Now this compelling novel animates the legend with a portrait of an unforgettable woman who struggles against  restrictions her soul cannot accept.” ~ Amazon

“Tsukiyama uses the Japanese invasion of China during the late 1930s as a somber backdrop for her unusual story about a 20-year-old Chinese painter named Stephen who is sent to his family’s summer home in a Japanese coastal village to recover from a bout with tuberculosis. Here he is cared for by Matsu, a reticent housekeeper and a master gardener. Over the course of a remarkable year, Stephen learns Matsu’s secret and gains not only physical strength, but also profound spiritual insight. Matsu is a samurai of the soul…and Stephen is a noble student…” ~ Amazon

“With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recall the work of Charles Dickens, this magnificent novel captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India. The time is 1975. The place is an unnamed city by the sea. The government has just declared a State of Emergency, in whose upheavals four strangers–a spirited widow, a young student uprooted from his idyllic hill station, and two tailors who have fled the caste violence of their native village–will be thrust together, forced to share one cramped apartment and an uncertain future. ” ~ Amazon

“John McMillan was only eight years old when his mother died and he was ripped, without warning, from his sheltered world of books and gentility. Now on his aunt’s run-down tenant farm in southern Alabama, abused by his alcoholic uncle, and completely bereft, John longs for escape–his only hope for survival. He’s about to get his wish in a way no one could ever predict….A twist of fate will bring John to the Bend, a black settlement that has become a refuge for outcasts, where he’ll join Tuway, a black man who helps others leave the South and find a new life in Chicago.” ~ Amazon

“An epic story of love found and lost, Losing Julia begins in 1928 at the dedication of a memorial to the great War in France. American Patrick Delaney has come to mourn his fallen comrades, especially his best friend, Daniel. When he sees a woman standing alone in the crowd, he realizes she must be Julia, Daniel’s lover. Though Patrick is married, he and Julia fall desperately in love during the brief but unforgettable time they spend exploring the still haunted and battle-scarred countryside. Struggling to reconcile their love with the legacy of war and life’s obligations, Julia and Patrick cling to each other until one fateful step, when Patrick loses Julia, perhaps never to find her again.” ~ Amazon

“Enger tells the story of eleven-year-old Reuben Land, an asthmatic boy who has reason to believe in miracles. Along with his sister and father, Reuben finds himself on a cross-country search for his outlaw older brother who has been controversially charged with murder. Their journey is touched by serendipity and the kindness of strangers, and its remarkable conclusion shows how family, love, and faith can stand up to the most terrifying of enemies, the most tragic of fates.” ~ Amazon

“In an Alabama town in the early 1950s during the last polio summer before the Salk vaccine, ten-year-old Tabitha “Tab” Rutland is about to have the time of her life. Although movie theaters and pools have been closed to stem the epidemic, Tab, a tomboy with a passion for Roy Rogers, still seeks adventure with her best friend Maudie May, “the lightest brown colored person” she knows. Now as they meddle with the local bootlegger, Mr. Jake, row out on the Tennessee River to land the biggest catfish ever, and snoop into the town’s darkest secrets, Tab sets out to be a hero…and comes of age in an unforgettable confrontation with human frailty, racial injustice, and the healing power of love.” ~ Amazon

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The above books are fiction or memoir only, and have received my highest ratings. But I have loads of other great books to recommend on Goodreads—books I’ve really, really liked, or just books I’ve really liked, so feel free to follow me there to find more titles to read.

Share the Love…

In addition to my joy over sharing books I’ve loved. I totally dig book recommends too, so please share your faves with me here if they’re not on my lists. Or… just share your thoughts on the books I’ve listed. Agree? Disagree? Whatever makes your page-turnin’ hand tingle.

But a Note: Be nice, folks, or you will be banned from commenting forthwith, forever and ever and ever. *Insert maniacal laughter here* No, really. I’m serious.

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