Jill - Nothing Holds Back the Night by Delphine de Vigan
This is a wild choice for me as my favorite book of the year, because I read much more fiction than non-fiction. Translated from the French, this is a memoir (classified as fiction because de Vigan had to fill in the gaps) and a daughter’s quest to understand her mother after her death. Her mother grew up in Paris as a child model in a bohemian family, and as she became older her occasional sadness gave way to overwhelming despair and delusion. Some of the rawness of the book is brutal, because you feel her pain and her love for her mother coming off the pages, but at the end I was sad to be finished and the book has stayed in my mind for weeks now.
Devin - The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family's only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. This book is beautifully written and sets captivating scenes in the town of Malacca as well as the Plains of the Dead. Watching Li Lan evolve as a character was rewarding and I enjoyed the peaceful tone of the novel. It is a combination of fantasy, historical fiction, romance, and comedy so there’s something for everyone!
Tirzah - I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda with Liz Welch
In alternating chapters, Caitlin and Martin share their true story of how they met as school pen-pals, which grew into a lifetime friendship. I especially found Martin’s narrative interesting, because my prior knowledge of Zimbabwe and its culture was minimal. To read a personal account on the impoverished life that so many communities lead was both touching and troubling. However, Martin’s optimism, intelligence, and determination despite his hard life left a positive impact on me. It was also touching to read about Caitlin and her family’s kindness and be reminded that generous people still do exist in the world. Caitlin and Martin’s story opens eyes and inspires to be kind, to pursue dreams, and to never give up.
Amanda - Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown
A chef gets kidnapped by a pirate. One Goodreads reviewer described it as “a weird historical fiction with a touch of fantasy and a tiny bit of romance” Basically, written for Amanda. It’s awesome.
Alli - Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
It's a wonderful book because it has simple, yet powerful prose and deals with family trauma (both on a personal level and generational) in a very sensitive yet insightful way.
I also really loved Tamed by a Bear by Priscilla Stuckey. It's a non-fiction book about an English professor connecting with nature by 'speaking' with her spirit animal, Bear, and learning insightful messages about the work and insights about her self as she does. The most important lesson that I took away from this book was how to be gentle with oneself, and to always listen to your intuition.
Megan J - Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
I listened to this book early in the year, as with all of Gaiman's audiobooks, it was delightful. Unfamiliar mythology can sometimes get confusing, especially with multiple sources and various translations. But Gaiman's stories are true enough to the original tales while maintaining his unique style.
Kristen - The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
I took this book on vacation to Colorado over the summer, and it kept me occupied the whole drive. Donoghue has a knack for leaving breadcrumb trails to what is going on without giving too much away at once. While it sometimes felt drawn out and other times left me wanting more, I loved being transported to the rural marshes of Ireland and barreled through the eerie mystery of The Wonder.
Jake - The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home by Denise Kiernan
I've always loved history, particularly when it comes to grand buildings or ships. The Biltmore Estate, the largest private residence in America, is about as grand as they come. I've read several books about the history of the Biltmore Estate and this one was a welcome addition. This one goes into greater detail about the Vanderbilt family and friends which provides a great deal of insight into both the planning of the estate as well as it's active life as a country home
Dawn - Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope by Wendy Holden
It is a well researched book about Holocaust survivors. It's just amazing what these three women went through, survived, and gave to their children.
Gerry - Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (And World Peace) by Chade-Meng Tan
Tan is a Google engineer who has mastered the skill of emotional intelligence. This book is great because it teaches you how to control your emotions which can positively impact your work and personal life. If praises from the Dalai Lama and former president Jimmy Carter isn't enough to convince you to read this book well then I know I can't and I'll stop right about.... now.
Katherine - Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore
This is a unique, fun, and witty book! I'm always excited to read something new and this one has unique pouring from it. Death is a woman named Suzie and everyone gets 10,000 lives to get "it right" and achieve perfection. The little pieces of wisdom sprinkled throughout the book were wonderful and I loved the humor.