Here are a few of the good books I’ve been reading this year. I read several of them for the book club that I’m part of.

Peace Like a River (Leif Enger) ~ This book now ranks as one of my favorites. And yet I don’t think I would have ever picked it up without its being suggested as a book club selection. It’s set in the Midwest, and the narrator is an asthmatic 11-year-old boy (who reminds me somewhat of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird). After his older brother is accused of murder, Reuben and his father and sister set out to search for him. This book has a great storyline and also has strong themes of love and belief and miracles seamlessly woven in. The author credits his years writing for NPR for his honed writing skills; his faith also comes through in an authentic way.

Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri) ~ Jhumpa Lahiri is my favorite modern-day author; this is Lahiri’s third book and her second collection of short stories. While her first set of stories (Interpreter of Maladies) dealt mostly with Indian-Americans attempting to adjust to new cultures, this book focuses more on the children of immigrants as they struggle with imposed expectations (from family, friends, etc.) and their own preferences. I loved the Nathaniel Hawthorne quote that Lahiri included at the beginning: Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth. Whenever I read Jhumpa Lahiri, I feel that I’m reading a master of the short story.

Dearest Friend (Lynne Withey) ~ I read this biography while Jeff and I were watching the HBO miniseries “John Adams.” I don’t read many biographies, but I found this one to be readable and fascinating. I was most struck by how different life was several hundred years ago. I think the author did a great job of capturing a woman who was independent, forward-thinking, and very traditional. I also highly recommend the miniseries.

More Love to Thee (Sharon James) ~ When I was a teenager, I read Stepping Heavenward, a novel by the subject of this biography, Elizabeth Prentiss (who also wrote the hymn “More Love to Thee”). I found this biography to be a good complement to that book (which is somewhat autobiographical). Like the Abigail Adams biography, I was again struck by the many difficulties of life in previous centuries. A friend passed this book on to me, and after reading it I agree with her observation that this book is a good portrait of a Christian woman who lives out her faith in the context of her family and local church (Prentiss’s husband was a pastor). Many biographies of Christian women are about missionaries, which is great, but it’s nice to find a biography about a woman whose life was not necessarily adventurous but faithful nonetheless.

I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith) ~ How can you resist a book that opens with the line, “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”? 🙂 I reread this book (for the third time?) this summer for book club. This book remains one of my favorite “whimsical” novels. It’s a coming-of-age story set in the 1930s. Cassandra, who is attempting to learn to be a writer, lives with her wacky family in a run-down English castle. An American family moves in nearby, setting in motion the plot of this story. This book has laugh-out-loud moments and charming quotes (Noble deeds and hot baths are the only cures for depression. ; The idea of herbs is so much more exciting than the look of them.)

Are there books you’ve read this year that you’d recommend?