Okay, I lied—one two counts. If you read my post yesterday, you know I said I was going to close comments today, but I’ve decided to keep them open. I hope to pop online during my lunch break to catch up.
Secondly, this list contains more than five books, but I don’t believe I’ve ever had a harder time choosing favorites.
As usual, I did the Goodreads challenge and ended the year at 108 books read. From those 108, I’ve highlighted six. Since I’ve previously shared full reviews for most of the books listed below, I’m only resharing snippets. You can find my full reviews on BookBub, Goodreads, or Amazon along with the blurbs for each book. Click the links to connect to each book’s dedicated on Amazon.
I just couldn’t fit this book into my top five, but it’s so dang good, I have to give it an honorable mention at number six.
THE MOONLIGHT SCHOOL
By Suzanne Woods Fisher
I have a fondness for stories set in Appalachia. The setting is always so rich and the characters wonderfully authentic. In this case, the year—1911—adds to the vibrancy of the novel. I was unfamiliar with Cora Wilson Stewart prior to reading this book but am now enamored of this woman who made it her mission to bring adult literacy to the backwoods of Kentucky and beyond.
In this fictional account, woven with fact, Cora’s cousin, Lucy agrees to spend six months as Cora’s assistant, unaware of the hardscrabble conditions she’ll encounter. From its colorful assortment of characters, including Brother Wyatt, a singing school master, to Finley James, a young man unconvinced education is for him, and Mollie McGlothin, an elderly woman who knows the history of the surrounding hollers better than any other—the lives of each individual effortlessly sweeps the reader into the pages.
Cora’s defining moment is in creating “moonlight schools”—teaching geared toward illiterate adults, held in the evenings. There is a moment at the end that brought tears to my eyes.
By Alice Feeney
Each year on Halloween, Daisy Darker and her two sisters, along with her divorced parents, gather at Sea Glass—an old mansion cut off from the mainland every high tide—to celebrate her grandmother’s birthday.
Most of the characters (including an old friend who arrives unexpectedly by boat) detest each other and have closets full of skeletons, but they make a tantalizing melting pot. Reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” we’re treated to one puzzling murder after another, tension and suspicion ramping up among the surviving family members as each death occurs.
I’m usually pretty good about figuring out the killer but was caught off guard by the twisty turns at the end of this novel. Once I reached the end, I had to reanalyze what I’d read, revisiting earlier passages in order to appreciate the cleverness of the plot. I enjoyed Feeney’s Rock Paper Scissors but she outdid herself with Daisy Darker.
THE CHILDREN ON THE HILL
By Jennifer McMahon
I devour anything written by Jennifer McMahon, and consider this (along withThe Night Sister) one of her two best releases. Everything about this book appealed to me—the use of dual timelines, a mysterious treatment center, children playing at monster hunting, and a quasi-celebrity cryptid/monster hunter who scours the country in search of creatures for her podcasts.
Perhaps it’s the subject matter of monsters—real and imagined—that made this tale resonate so strongly. McMahon continues to prove she is a compelling storyteller with a deft touch for characters and atmosphere. I consider this tale, story gold!
THE RECKONING AT GOSSAMER POND
By Jaime Jo Wright
A positively gripping story! This is my third book by Jamie Jo Wright, and it certainly won’t be my last. As usual, she’s created a complex plot spanning two timelines (1907 and present day), and characters who lingered with me long after I’d closed my Kindle. Both mysteries are intriguing, but the characters from 1907 and the strange occurrences that took place—obituaries sent to a newspaper prior to the actual deaths of two town citizens, the appearance of unorthodox twin revivalists, and a town steeped in secrets—were mesmerizing.
It took me several days to read the first half of the book (other commitments kept interrupting), but I blew through the last half in a single sitting. If you like twisty mysteries with historical overtones, amazing characters, and detailed genealogies, don’t miss this riveting novel.
THE PREMONITION AT WITHERS FARM
By Jaimie Jo Wright
I requested an ARC of this title because I’m addicted to dual timeline mysteries, and I loved the idea of the early twentieth century setting (for the past timeline) and the hint of spiritualism woven into the plot. Goosebumps abound! From the descriptions of carriage rides and nighttime walks on country roads lined by towering corn stalks, to the eerie use of the nursery rhyme Cock Robin, my skin prickled.
After finishing, I immediately looked up the author, signed up for her newsletter, bought the paperback copy, and ordered more of her previous books.
THE PRINCE AND THE PRODIGAL
By Jill Eileen Smith
I read this book in February of 2022, and it had a lot of challengers during the year, but it still holds as my favorite. A retelling of Joseph’s story from the Old Testament, it parallels his life with that of his older brother Judah.
This is a story of family. Of brotherhood, forgiveness, and redemption. Strength in the face of adversity, healing, and most of all, the belief that God is ever faithful and will deliver. Old Testament fiction is one of my favorite genres. I rank this book as a favorite, not only in the genre, but among my favorite reads of all time. I will certainly go back and read this again. A superb retelling of Joseph’s story and one I highly recommended.
I’ve already finished my first read of 2023 and am still mulling over how I feel about it. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above.
Have you read any of these books? Do any of them appeal to you? What was your favorite read of the past year?