The Times Square ball has dropped, the confetti has cleared and millions of partygoers are nursing their hangovers. 2012 has arrived – and like clockwork we are bombarded with guilt-inducing gym equipment ads and a plethora of “best of” lists. So here’s my contribution to the annual tradition of cherry picking. These fabulous books –packed with family dysfunction, strong, revolutionary women, and personal transformation – are my top five faves of 2011.
1.) The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Some nay-sayers claim that this book is nothing more than “white liberal self-congratulation,” but for me, it’s an eye-opening account of prejudice and ignorance in the Jim Crow South. Sure, I’ve read about the civil rights movement in politically-correct history classes, but this book gave me a more insightful perspective of what it was like to be a black maid in a racially-divided Mississippi. Read my review here.
2.) A War of Her Own by Sylvia Dickey Smith
Like a hearty plate of beef brisket, this book will stick with you long after you devour it in one sitting! In true Sylvia Dickey Smith style, the story centers around a strong, gutsy woman who strives to make a life for herself in defiance of adversity. Set in a small East Texas town during World War II, Bea Meade (the Texified version of Rosie the Riveter) must fight her own battle against a philandering husband and sexist men in the shipyard. As she struggles to find love and happiness as a single working mother, she must solve the mysteries of her past. Sylvia’s skillful unraveling of family secrets and betrayal left me breathless. Bea is an enduring character with a fierce and unstoppable spirit. This is a beautifully written story about an important time in American history. You must read this book! Read my review here.
3.) Backseat Saints by Joshylin Jackson
This is one heavy-duty read that will make you think differently about women who suffer from domestic abuse. Trapped in a marriage with a dangerous psychopath, Rose Mae Lolley lives in a torturous world of misery and fear. After enduring a near-fatal blow to the head, she finally snaps and hits the road running. On a quest to find a murderous ex-boyfriend who can do her husband in, she heads back to her hometown in Fruiton, Alabama. When she reluctantly meets with her estranged father, she realizes she must come to terms with her past in order to break out of the vicious cycle of abuse and neglect. This is one heart-wrenching story of family psychodrama that will linger on with you long after you read it.
4.) Fever Moon by Carolyn Haines
Carolyn Haines is well known for her light-hearted Bones Mysteries, but she also has a few darker stand-alones that rival James Lee Burke’s and Joe Lansdale’s Deep South detective novels. Set in New Iberia, Louisiana during World War II, the mystery begins when a stark-raving wild woman is found hovering over a ravaged murder victim in the woods. The town is convinced she’s the loup-garou, a legendary shape-shifting monster, yet Deputy Raymond Thibodeaux knows she’s been set up. Haunted by the ravages of war and the loss of his kid brother, Raymond feels a strong connection to the feral woman who lost her mind after the death of her sister and two twin sons. On a quest to clear her name, he puts his life on the line and faces his own demons in the process. Whether I’m reading a cozy whodunit or a dark and atmospheric thriller, I’m always swept away by Carolyn’s world of sprawling horse pastures, sugar cane fields and spooky bayous! Read my review here.
5.) Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore
They say you can never come home again, but for Catherine Grace Cline, that’s perfectly okay. Restless and bored of small-town life, she spends her days plotting her great escape out of Ringgold, Georgia. Every Saturday afternoon, she sits with her best friend outside the DQ licking a Dilly Bar and daydreaming about her new life in the big city of Atlanta. When her dream finally becomes a reality, tragedy brings her back home. Shortly after her arrival, she discovers an earth-shattering betrayal and must find it within herself to forgive the ones she holds most dear. Brimming with sentiments of love, redemption and perseverence, this book had me reaching for the Kleenex and made me want to hug my daddy. I know, I’m a total sap. If you’re into books by authors like Billie Letts or Fannie Flagg, you’re bound to enjoy this sweet Southern yarn.
What’s your favorite book of 2011?