Best Books of 2010

I will remember 2010 as a great year in reading – 75% of the books I read were rated a 4 star or higher…a reflection of the amazing books which found their way into my hands in 2010.

As I sat down to make up my Top Ten reads of 2010 list (books not necessarily published in 2010, but books which I have read this year), I realized that I had a whopping 19 books on my list which I loved and wanted to recognize! How to narrow them down? I decided to deviate a little this year in how I categorize my Best Books of the Year list. This year I have divided my favorite reads into two categories: Non Fiction and Fiction. I decided to choose FIVE of my favorite non fiction reads with TWO notable mentions, and TEN of my favorite Fiction reads with TWO notable mentions. So,without further ado, here they are:


Notable Mentions:

The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz (read my review) – Published by Rodale Books Reprint edition (February 2010); ISBN 978-1605294766; 320 pages.

Novogratz is an amazing writer. She brings to life the people, culture and geography of Africa, and shows her journey from a naive twenty-something into a woman with the wisdom and confidence to build a million dollar business tackling the issue of global poverty in ways which are revolutionary.

I read this book as part of The Social Justice Challenge and not only learned something about poverty, but was gratified to find optimism and hope for a problem that far too often makes one want to turn away.

Everything is Broken by Emma Larkin (read my review) – Published by Penguin Press (April 2010); ISBN 1594202575; 288 pages.

Everything is Broken is a difficult book to read. It uncovers the suffering and desolation of a country and its people. But it also offers up the beauty found in Burma – the beauty of an ancient culture, of the people who find ways to keep going in spite of the oppression, and of the stories of redemption and hope which cannot be silenced.

This book came to me as part of a TLC Book Tour and it was an eye opening look at an oppressed country. Readers who want to learn about Burma would do well to pick up this emotional and eloquent book.

Top Five (in Ascending Order):

#5 –  Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini (read my review) – Published by Riverhead (February 2010); ISBN 978-1594488979; 272 pages.

Buttirini writes eloquently about a difficult time in her life – a time when she and her husband struggled to recover from trauma and found solace in food.

Keeping the Feast is an honest, heartfelt exploration of one couple’s journey from depression to wholeness.

“Foodies” who love memoirs and travel will be certain to find this book memorable.

#4 –  Scent of the Missing by Susannah Charleson (read my review) – Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 2010); ISBN 978-0547152448; 304 pages.

You might think that a book about a search and rescue dog and her handler would be a shoe-in for a favorite read of mine. But, to be honest, I tend to be even more critical when it comes to books about a subject I am well-versed in. Charleson won me over with her honest, accurate story of what it is like to enter the world of search and rescue with a canine partner by your side.

From the first page of this heartfelt book, I was hooked – and not just because I too have traveled that long, difficult, heart-rending and rewarding journey from novice to mission ready SAR K9 handler, but because Charleson can write.

Dog lovers will definitely want a copy of Charleson’s book on their shelves.

#3 –  Hiroshima in the Morning by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto (read my review) – Published by The Feminist Press (September 2010); ISBN 978-1558616677; 320 pages.

Beautiful writing wins me over every time…and Rizzuto’s heartfelt and elegantly crafted memoir dazzled me.

Rizzuto’s prose is breathtaking, poetic, and insightful. I loved this book on so many levels, but especially for its wisdom. What Rizzuto does in Hiroshima in the Morning is to place the individual within the context of the community, to show that we are all connected through our stories and experiences, and that self-discovery is to be found in our relationships with others as well as through our unique view of the world.

I would not hesitate to pick up anything written by this author – her prose is honest, sublime and gorgeously constructed.

#2 –  Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell (read my review) – Published by Random House (August 2010); ISBN 978-1400067381; 208 pages.

Gail Caldwell’s emotional and heartbreaking memoir of her friendship with author Caroline Knapp won wide-spread praise by readers. Once started, I could not put this book aside. I smiled, I cried, and I found myself immersed in Caldwell’s story.

Let’s Take the Long Way Home is a book which will stick with me. For those readers who are not afraid to open their hearts and immerse themselves in another person’s pain, but also their joy, this book is a must read.

Readers who have ever had a best friend will not want to miss Caldwell’s riveting memoir.

And the #1 Non Fiction book I read in 2010 is…

Wild Comfort by Kathleen Dean Moore (read my review) – Published by Trumpeter (March 2010); ISBN 978-1590307717; 256 pages.

Kathleen Dean Moore has written an amazing book about the journey through grief, about finding solace in nature, and about our place in the world. I stumbled upon this book at a time in my life when I needed to read Moore’s words. She touched my heart and wrote about things which were relevant to my life.

So much of what I found between the pages of Wild Comfort spoke to me. Moore was able to put into words what I have long felt about the wild world – the mountains, streams, wildlife, and flora which have always called to me, are brought to vivid life in Moore’s essays.

I felt blessed by this book. It is a book which will stay with me. Readers who feel the pull of the natural world, especially at the most challenging of moments, will find comfort and wisdom within the pages of Wild Comfort.


Notable Mentions:

The Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (read my review)  – Published by Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (October 2001); ISBN 978-0060959036; 464 pages.

Read for a TLC Book Tour, Prodigal Summer is a beautifully written novel. As with all her work, I appreciated the character development.

Kingsolver adeptly develops her characters, weaving their stories together like a colorful blanket whose beauty lies in the pattern of the whole rather than in any individual thread.

This is a novel about  love, loss, grief, and the circular nature of life, and in the talented hands of Kingsolver it becomes a classic work of literature.

Room by Emma Donaghue (read my review) – Published by Little, Brown and Company (September 2010); ISBN 978-0316098335; 336 pages.

In a sparser year, Room would have made it into my top ten reads of the year. This wholly original novel left me shaken. Narrated in the unique voice of five year old Jack, the book is about mothering, love, hope and the resilience of the human spirit.

It takes a talented writer to write entirely from the point of view of a child – and Donoghue pulls off this feat seamlessly. The relationship between mother and child is beautifully revealed on every level. Donoghue’s ability to draw the reader in and emotionally invest them in the story is brilliant.

Room found its way onto the short list for the Booker Prize this year – and it was a well deserved honor. If you haven’t already read this one, put it on your list for 2011.

Top Ten (in Ascending Order):

#10 – The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (read my review) – Published by Atria (November 2010); ISBN 978-1439152782; 576 pages.

Kate Morton’s latest gothic novel slipped into my reading right at the end of the year and blew me away. Morton is an exceptionally talented writer who writes magnificent, moody, Gothic books.

The Distant Hours is a thick, delicious book of almost 700 pages. I was engaged in the story from the start and my interest never waned. In fact, the last 200 pages practically turned themselves as I read furiously to discover the secrets of the castle and its inhabitants.

Readers who enjoy gothic literature will not want to miss this one.

#9 – Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese (read my review) – Published by Alfred A. Knopf (February 2009); ISBN 978-0375414497; 560 pages.

Abraham Verghese’s massive novel Cutting for Stone tells the story of two brothers living in Ethiopia.

Cutting for Stone is a big, wonderful saga about love, fate, search for identity, and the passion that drives one to pursue their life’s work. The lives of the characters find a natural rhythm in the setting of Ethiopia, a country which has faced coups, military dictatorship, and instability. Verghese captures the beauty of Ethiopia’s countryside, as well as the colorful personalities of its citizens.

Verghese’s writing reminds me of another of my favorite authors – John Irving. I loved this book for its quirky characters, meandering plots, and ability to hold the reader’s attention through a story which spans decades.

#8 – The Glass Room by Simon Mawer (read my review) – Published by Other Press (October 2009); ISBN 978-1590513965; 416 pages.

The Glass Room is a stunning novel which was short listed for the 2009 Booker Prize.

The Glass Room is a provocative and daring novel which is a passionate portrayal of the people who struggled through an irrational and frightening period in history. At times, I felt my heart would break for the characters; I dreaded their future while they looked forward with optimism. As with the sleek and symmetrical lines of the house which they share, Mawer’s characters’ lives unfold with a symmetry which is at once brilliant and tragic.

Mawer writes convincingly and his use of sexual tension to create conflict in the novel is at once disturbing and provocative. Those readers who enjoy historical and literary fiction will be sure to appreciate this novel.

#7 –Portrait of a Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius (read my review) – Published by Peirene Press (September 2010); ISBN 978-0956284006; 115 pages.

All the books published this year by Peirene Press were wonderful reads, but Delius’s original story about a young woman living in Rome while her husband fights Hitler’s war in Africa was my favorite. Consisting of one long sentence, the novella is a surprisingly easy read.

This is a brilliant and thought-provoking piece of literature. To be honest, I was not sure I could read a book which consisted of only one sentence – but, Delius manages to make this work. In fact, I came to feel this was the perfect format for the story. The flow and rhythm of the prose carries the reader forward effortlessly.

Those readers who love literary fiction will be impressed by Delius’s poetic prose. This is one of those books which sticks with the reader long after the final page has been turned.

#6 – Cool Water by Dianne Warren (read my review) – Published by Harper Collins Canada (March 2010); ISBN 978-1554685585; 326 pages.

Dianne Warren’s wonderful novel was one of the pleasant surprises of 2010.

I love when a book surprises me; when I open the pages and fall into a story that swallows up time and takes me some place I have not been before; when I meet characters who touch my heart and teach me something about life. Cool Water is one of those books.

In her novel which feels like a series of linked short stories, Warren’s writing is subtle, intuitive, and richly rendered. It is a story of every day life in a small town which includes the disappointments, challenges, and small joys we all encounter. I hope more readers will discover the talent of this author.

#5 – The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart (read my review) – Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (October 2010); ISBN 978-0151014439; 320 pages.

Bruce Machart was not a new name to me – some time ago I read a short story of his and was impressed with his beautiful writing. So when I got the opportunity to receive an early readers edition of The Wake of Forgiveness through the Barnes and Noble First Look Book Club, I jumped at the chance. This debut novel is about the bonds of family and the crevices in sibling relationships, about the Texas land and the men and women who work it, and about love, loss and redemption.

Machart’s writing is some of the finest I have read in a long time. Dialogue, setting, plot, character…all are fully developed. Machart captures the wide open spaces of Texas, the hard work of farming and ranching, and the beauty of a horse running…all with gorgeous writing that takes the reader’s breath away.

I hated to see this book end. I loved it. And I can’t wait for Machart’s next novel.

#4 – Safe From The Sea by Peter Geye (read my review) – Published by Unbridled Books (September 2010); ISBN 978-1609530082; 256 pages.

Unbridled Books rarely disappoints me with their amazing literature…and Peter Geye’s debut novel Safe from the Sea stood out for me this year. A quiet story about a father and son who travel from estrangement towards forgiveness, this novel tells the tale of a shipwreck and a man who survived it; but more importantly, it is about family connection and the way stories bind us from one generation to the next.

Peter Geye’s debut novel is stunning and gorgeously written. The story of the Raganok is spell-binding, but it is the moments of introspection which I enjoyed the most. The backdrop of the Minnesota wilderness, the approach of winter, the howling of the wolves across the lake – all of it works to create an unforgettable novel of a father and son who come to recognize that what connects them is stronger than what has divided them.

I still think about this book even though I finished reading it in early November. This is one of those rare books which I want to press into other readers’ hands and beg them to read it now.

#3 – By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan (read my review) – Published by Other Press (May 2010); ISBN 978-1590513521; 320 pages.

It is a rare author who can convincingly blend historical facts with the thrill of a novel – but, Kaplan’s debut novel By Fire, By Water does just that. The book is set in fifteenth century Spain during the time of the New Inquisition when King Fernando and Queen Ysabel were waging war and expelling all Jews from Spain.

Big, passionate, brilliantly written, full of court intrigue and religious politics, I loved this novel. I read the last half of the book in one afternoon, unable to lay it aside until I knew what would happen. Kaplan’s descriptions are gorgeous. He effortlessly transports the reader into the past. He also brings forth the questions of the time: What were the motivations of King Fernando and Queen Ysabel? Were they simply religious fanatics, or were financial considerations the primary reason for supporting the Inquisition and the ultimate expulsion of the Jews from Spain?

Fans of historical fiction will love this book; but any reader who appreciates solid character development and beautiful writing will not want to miss By Fire, By Water.

#2 – The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt (read my review) – Published by Alfred A. Knopf (2009); ISBN 978-0307272096; 675 pages.

The Children’s Book was my first exposure to A.S. Byatt’s work…and I was completely enthralled. This is a rich family saga set in Britain at the end of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century. Although some readers complained about the number of characters introduced in the book, that was my favorite part of the novel.

[…] I loved this book. I loved its density. I loved the character development. I loved Byatt’s gorgeous use of language and the care she took in getting the historical details correct. I especially enjoyed the fairy tales and the theme of not growing up which weaves through the story (Byatt references Peter Pan in this novel and the idea of staying child-like forever is played out in the book). I found the historical background on the Women’s Suffrage movement in England to be fascinating…and yes, Byatt’s female characters are immersed in the drama and conflict of that time.

Yet another book shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this novel was wholly satisfying from beginning to end. I can’t wait to pick up another book by this amazing author.

And, finally, my #1 Fiction Read for 2010…

The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly (read my review) – Published by Nan A. Talese (March 2007); ISBN 978-0385518185; 448 pages.

Karen Connelly won the 2007 Orange Prize for New Writers for The Lizard Cage – and it is evident why she won this prize. This is an amazing piece of literary fiction.

I was immensely touched by this novel. It made me cry. It made me angry. It made me appreciate the courage of artists living in Burma. It made my heart bleed for the children caught in the chaos. The Lizard Cage is a must read for those who do not want to hide from the realities of our world. Hope for change is in speaking and writing about that which we would rather not hear.

Connelly is an exquisite writer whose prose drew me in and would not let me go. I wrote in my review: “Novels like this one are a testament to the power of words and stories.” And this is why The Lizard Cage is at the top of my list this year. It is rare to find a book which can move a reader in the way this book moved me. I read it in May, and I still find myself thinking of it.

Thank you to all the publishers, publicists, authors, booksellers, and friends who put wonderful literature into my hands in 2010 – it was certainly a year in reading to remember!

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    • Sandra on January 2, 2011 at 14:40

    Great picks. I’ve read Room and The Lizard Cage, which I absolutely agree about. And I have all of your fiction choice on reserve at the library, except the Machart, Morton, and Kingsolver-which probably should be as I enjoyed The Lacuna, my first by her. I’m keeping your non-fiction titles on hand for when I’m in the mood some day.

    My personal favourites this year:

    -The Siege by Helen Dunmore
    -The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger
    -Dog Boy by Eva Hornung
    -The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
    -The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre
    -Our Horses in Egypt by Rosalind Belben
    -Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky
    -The Road Home by Rose Tremain
    -The Ghost Brush by Katherine Govier
    -Random Passage by Bernice Morgan

    Hope you have a good reading year in 2011.

  1. This is a great list, and I have read quite a few of them! The others have been added to my wish list and I am hoping to get some of them read this year. I also agree with your choice of Room as a favorite. It was one of mine as well!

    • Laura on January 2, 2011 at 16:51

    What a great list, Wendy. I like the way you listed these in a “countdown” format! I haven’t read many of these although I did love The Lizard Cage and recently added Cutting for Stone to my wish list.

    Happy New Year !!

  2. I’ve only read a few of them, but have several others in my TBR pile. I love the way you did your list.

  3. I have read a lot of bloggers’ best of lists, and while there are often several books I’ve added to the TBR list because of such, yours is the only list that finds me adding EVERY SINGLE BOOK to my want-to-read list. All of these look wonderful.

    Glad you had such a great reading year! (I did too … isn’t it a nice feeling?)

  4. What a great list of books. I see a few that are on my to-read list and a few more that have now been added. Thanks for sharing!

    • Staci on January 2, 2011 at 17:39

    I loved your well written post Wendy! Thanks for the list of books and a bit about them…I will be referencing this one in 2011 😀

    • Wendy on January 2, 2011 at 18:33

    Sandra: You have an interesting list there…I loved The Road Home when I read it last year, and I have the Dunmore and Buchanan books on my TBR pile. I’ll need to check out the rest of your books!

    Heather: Hope you’ll enjoy some of these in 2011!

    Laura: I remember you loving Connelly’s book…and I think you will appreciate Cutting for Stone (its a chunkster, but a relatively quick read!)

    Kathy: Thanks!

    Melissa: Wow, what a wonderful compliment!! I hope you love these as I did, Melissa!

    Wallace: You’re very welcome!

    Staci: Thanks! Hope this helps you pick out some reads in 2011!

  5. The Lizard Cage was such an amazing and difficult read. It was my best book of the year I read it too. I have the Glass Room, so your inclusion is making me think of it more closely. Great list, great year of reading!

    • Alyce on January 2, 2011 at 19:11

    I see some familiar titles on that list, and some that are new to me that I will have to check out.

    • Wendy on January 2, 2011 at 19:22

    RaiderGirl: I don’t think I’ll ever forget Connelly’s novel…so good. Oh, I hope you’ll read and enjoy Mawer’s book!

    Alyce: Hope you’ll find a couple which will resonate with you!

    • Amused on January 2, 2011 at 20:30

    Oh my goodness I love this thorough list! So many on here I have loved or want to read! I can’t believe you had such a great reading year – I wish such success in the coming year!

  6. Wow, you had quite a great year! I’m really excited about The Long Way Home. I’ve read a few things by Knapp (I’m a big dog person) so their friendship interests me a lot.

    • Amy on January 3, 2011 at 06:04

    Fantastic list of books here. I especially loved Cutting for Stone myself. All the best in 2011.

    • Wendy on January 3, 2011 at 07:51

    Amused: Thank you so much! I wish the same to you!

    Pam: Get out your box of kleenex for The Long Way Home – I also had read and enjoyed Knapp’s work, which is why I wanted to read the book. It is a wonderful memoir.

    Amy: All the best to you as well!

  7. I loved Room, Cutting for Stone and The Glass Room and bought a copy of The Lizard Cage on your recommendation. I’m especially looking forward to reading it now that I know it is your #1

  8. I have Scent of the Missing on my shelf TBR soon. Can’t wait to get to it. Also I read Room. It was one of the only TWO fiction books I read this year and it was very good, but very disturbing!

    • Anna on January 5, 2011 at 07:08

    Great list! A few books on my shelves that I plan to read soon are listed (Safe From the Sea, By Fire, By Water, and The Glass Room) which makes me excited to start them!

  9. I love reading everyone’s “Best Of” lists and I just knew yours would be full of great choices. I should just print out the entire post and use it for my 2011 reading list! I’ve already read (and loved!) Room and I have Let’s Take the Long Way Home, Cutting for Stone, and Keeping the Feast in my stacks. All the rest sound fabulous, Wendy. Congrats on such a great year of reading!

    • Wendy on January 6, 2011 at 06:28

    Jackie: I think you’ll love The Lizard Cage!

    Callista: I agree – Room is a disturbing book. I liked that it was original – there are plenty of thrillers out there, but Room stood out as being a different kind of thriller. Hope you’ll enjoy Scent of the Missing!

    Anna: All great books! Hope you love them as much as I did!

    Les: I enjoy the Best of lists too 🙂 Glad I’ve tempted you with mine!

  10. What wonderful picks! Several of these were already on my TBR, and I’m adding the rest. I had a high number of 4 star reviews this year too, and I think it’s at least in part due to recognizing things I like and relying on blogger recommendations with similar taste. Happy 2011!

    • Wendy on January 9, 2011 at 16:30

    Carrie: I agree! I think I am getting much better at picking books that I end up loving – in large part due to the blogger reviews that you mention. Happy 2011 to you too 🙂

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