My Reading Life: Sleeper Hits 2021

It’s time, once again, to create my favorite annual book list, my Sleeper Hits of the Year.

What is a Sleeper Hit, you ask?

The entertainment industry uses the term to describe a movie that becomes a sensation despite a small financial investment, little promotion and/or slow opening success.  I use the term to describe a book I expect to be good (or even great) but ends up exceeding all my expectations.  Sleeper Hits aren’t always 5 star books, but they do garner at least a solid 4 star rating and are always a happy surprise when it comes to my personal enjoyment of them.

Last year when I introduced the Sleeper Hits for 2020, I mentioned that my reading experience had been weird, mostly due to the inescapable scourge of COVID. Sadly, that theme continued throughout 2021. I struggled with reading slumps, especially toward the end of the year, and wasted valuable reading time on forgettable escapist reads and overhyped new releases. I wasn’t sure I’d even have enough books to create this list. Discovering I had more than enough possibilities was a delightful surprise.

A few themes emerged as I pulled this list together:

  1. Almost every book on this list has a striking sense of time and/or place, which is probably a reflection of my deep yearning to get back to some serious traveling.
  2. Although it is almost always secondary to the main plots, romance is woven into the storylines of many of these books.
  3. The protagonist’s personal growth or better understanding or acceptance of self is a recurring theme.
  4. Other than the two books focusing on the battle of Troy (which are not at all happy), all the books on this list have a generally positive or hopeful vibe.

It seems I was drawn to books that took me somewhere new or focused on good things like love, character growth or happy endings. For my list, I’ve provided a brief synopsis of each book and my private Goodreads notes with each selection. The Goodreads notes are fragments of thoughts written immediately after finishing each book; good grammar is not a player here. Hopefully, my blurbs will give you some insight into why I loved these books so much.

Sleeper Hits 2021

Tomorrow by Damian Dibben and narrated by George Blagden. Basically the story of a dog looking for his beloved owner, this book spices things up with a dose of immortality and an interesting historical timeframe.

Goodreads note: This was a unexpected and fascinating story that I lingered over. A loyal dog, Tomorrow, is the narrator and it’s his perspective through which the tale is told. Absolutely unique story, striking characters (human and animal), well wrought setting with historical accuracy, excellent writing. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I would highly recommend as long as fast paced action not a reader requirement. It’s a contemplative book about life, mortality and purpose. The narrator for the audiobook is excellent. 4.5 stars.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, narrated by Kristin Atherton and Michael Fox. Briseis, queen of Lyrnesess and enslaved war prize of Achilles, tells the story of the final days of the battle of Troy from a woman’s perspective.

Goodreads note: An interesting retelling of the Iliad from the perspective of Briseis, queen of Lyrnesess and war prize of Achilles. Raw, brutal and much more vulgar in style than Madeline Miller, but still very compelling. Completely foreign to my experience of the world as a woman but incredibly moving, especially the ending. This is Achilles’s story – make no mistake – but Briseis shares her experiences, which are just as compelling, in parallel to his. Surprisingly, I cried at the end, over Hector’s murdered boy. 5 stars.

Float Plan by Trish Doller. After the suicide death of her fiance, Anna decides to embark on a solo sailing trip that she and her fiance had planned to do together. Float Plan is the story of Anna’s adventures as she sails throughout the Caribbean.

Goodreads note: Absolutely adored this book – sailing the Caribbean, meeting wonderful characters, working through difficult topics with a gentle hand. This is well-written, deals fairly with grief/suicide and has an incredible sense of place. I could picture the places Anna and Keane visited because of my own island experiences and I really enjoyed traveling with them on State of Grace. This is a fantastic summer read for the beach, the pool or any relaxing vacation. Float Plan is a definite sleeper hit for me. 4.5 stars.

Mythos written and narrated by Stephen Fry. A book of clever myth retellings infused with humor and a modern perspective.

Goodreads note: Absolutely loved this book! Stephen Fry brings old myths to life with charm and wit. I could have listened for hours. It is obvious that he has studied and loved these tales. I personally enjoyed comparing the gods and their stories to my God and the Bible; was surprised by some of the similarities (flood, judgement on lack of hospitality, etc.). Will be buying a book for my library AND purchasing the next audiobook, Heroes.

This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart. Murder, mayhem and a little bit of romance swirl around the Waring sisters, as they try to relax on the beautiful island of Corfu.

Goodreads note: Mary Stewart is a master of setting and sense of place. I feel like I have personally visited Corfu. She also writes a very solid romantic suspense thriller. I was engaged from the get go, cared about the characters, was interested in the mystery. The dialogue is very British and a bit dated but didn’t really impact my reading enjoyment. Interesting riff off of/connection to The Tempest (which I should read now) and clever dolphin storyline. Perfect low effort, high reward summer read. 4 stars.

Sea People by Christina Thompson, narrated by Susan Lyons. Sea People is a non-fiction investigation of the culture (specifically related to sailing) of the sea-faring peoples of the South Pacific.

Goodreads note: A fascinating book about the settling of Polynesia: the population’s genetic heritage and diaspora, and their navigating prowess. Very scholarly, well researched with solid historical and scientific support. I’m sure my enjoyment was enhanced by my personal experience in Tahiti, Rangiroa, Moorea, Bora Bora, Huahine and the Tuamotus. Def not for everyone, but I felt informed and educated. And I found a new type of pottery to admire – Lapita (the first Polynesia people) pottery. 4.25 stars.

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery. Take Cinderella or Jane Eyre, place her in the Canadian woods, tell her story with lovely writing, and you have The Blue Castle.

Goodreads note: Loved, loved, loved this story. Valancy was a delight – such growth despite her ridiculous and horrible family. Loved the nature writing. Loved the characters Valancy befriended. Loved watching the relationship between Valancy and Barney grow. L.M. Montgomery writes so beautifully and wistfully, especially about the natural world. Valancy loving built her dust pile and watched it become her real Blue Castle. Yep, I’ll probably be returning to this book again and again. Wonderful reading experience! 5 stars.

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina. Despite family problems, serial killers and New York City burning to the ground, Nora Lopez just wants to turn 18, graduate from high school and maybe fall in love.

Really, really enjoyed this. The claustrophobic feeling of Nora’s life, the tension and craziness in New York City (1977), the 70s nostalgia, and presenting Flushing, Queens as a character. It’s a fast-paced story, easily read in a day or two. Difficult issues are covered, but handled well. Despised Nora’s father for being so neglectful and her mother for pawning off difficult situations on Nora. This was a believable story with interesting characters. Easy reading, engaging YA historical fiction. 4.25 stars.

Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew. The setting (Klein Karoo in South Africa) and the food obsessed agony aunt protagonist make this fun cozy mystery feel fresh and new.

Goodreads note: So much more than a cozy mystery. Excellent sense of place (Klein Karoo, South Africa) and culture (Afrikaaner/Dutch/native/colored), mouth watering food descriptions, engaging mystery, unusual protagonist (50ish average woman). I felt transported and invested. Loved the agony aunt/foodie columnist mash-up which really set the stage for everything else. Great intro to the Africa location of the Book Voyage reading challenge. Bonus: author lives in location of book setting and writes with authority. 4.25 stars.

A Thousand Ships written and narrated by Natalie Haynes. This book is another interpretation of the end of the battle of Troy, narrated, this time, by Calliope and focusing solely on the women’s experiences during the war.

Goodreads note: Excellent. Would have been even more so IF I hadn’t read several other viewpoints of the story of Troy in the last few years. Appreciated the unique point of view from Calliope as she tells the stories of the women of the 10 year battle through the unnamed poet. Narrated by author, who is excellent! Especially enjoyed Penelope’s letters, which made her seem like a real person instead of a saintly impossibility. Will be taking a break from Troy for a bit, but am still seeking out Greek myth retellings. 5 stars.

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. The entire series of 5 novellas and one full length book made this list. I’m not offering a synopsis; my Goodreads notes from a few of the books will get the job done just fine.

My Goodreads notes:

(Book 1) The most unusual sci-fi I’ve read, maybe ever, about a security bot that is part human, part machine. It’s smarter than anyone believes(has overridden its governor), is shy and introverted (hates people to look at it and would rather watch shows than work), is guilt-ridden and filled with doubt and has a soft spot for humans, even though it doesn’t want to because they make it uncomfortable. Thoroughly enjoyed this novella – Murderbot most of all. 4 stars for character development and pure enjoyment.

(Book 2) Enjoyed second installment of this series. Perfect reading for recovering COVID brain – uncomplicated, fun characters and fascinating world, straight forward plot, short. Will probably read third installment today (10/31). Can’t seem to handle much more than Murderbot at the moment.

(Book 3) I think Murderbot is saving my sanity during this COVID ordeal. Fluffy sci-fi novellas that don’t require deep thought but are deeply satisfying. Murderbot somehow manages to get caught in messy human affairs and always manages to save the day. There is action, humor and enough introspection by the cyborg to keep things interesting and emotionally engaging. Novellas are pricey ($10 for 100 pages??), but I’m going to keep reading because I’m all in on low effort entertainment right now. 4 stars.

My reading experience so far in 2022 has been very positive and I’m anticipating many choices for my next Sleeper Hits list. Do you have any Sleeper Hits or favorite books from 2021 to share? I’d love to hear about them!

A Little Yule Cheer, Day 5: A Primer for A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

In October of 1843, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol as a social commentary on the treatment of the poor, especially poor children, in industrialized England. It took him only six weeks to put the story on paper! Because his publishers, Chapman and Hall, were unwilling to risk the investment of publishing another novel after his Martin Chuzzlewit flop, Dickens paid for the production and printing of the novella out of his own pocket. The 6,000 published copies sold out in a week and 15,000 total copies were sold by the end of the year. A Christmas Carol has never been out of print since that time.

I read A Christmas Carol almost every year and always watch at least one movie version as part of my Christmas traditions. For today, I’m sharing some resources and opinions related to this iconic story. If you’re already a fan of this iconic story, I hope this post brings you some joy. If you aren’t very familiar with it, I hope you’ll discover something that makes you curious to dip your toes into one of the greatest Christmas tales of all time (outside of The Christmas Story, which is why we celebrate in the first place).

Introduction

To set the stage, Clickview offers an informative background video on Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol. It’s brief (about 7 minutes) and adds dimension to the story, whether you are an aficionado or a beginner.

Experiencing the Story

There are many ways to experience A Christmas Carol. As an avid reader, I am always going to recommend reading the book first. It’s a small time investment; most books are under 120 pages. If you aren’t a reader, listening to an audiobook is another possibility. Again, the time investment is small, about 3.5 to 4 hours. Audible has versions narrated by some powerhouse actors including Tim Curry, Hugh Grant, Patrick Stewart, Orson Welles and Lionel Barrymore, and Lawrence Olivier. I also found a Audible Original version with a full cast including Sir Derek Jacobi and Brendan Coyle.

The third, and probably most accessible, way to experience A Christmas Carol is to watch a movie version. At my house, we like the whimsey of A Muppet Christmas Carol and the darkness of A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott. There are so many versions to choose from. To find your own favorite(s,) check out the lists below:

Going Deeper

If you are already a fan of A Christmas Carol and want to try something new but related, here are a few suggestions:

Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva. This as a fictionalized account of the writing of a Christmas Carol. Very little is tied to historical facts but the story is well told with an atmosphere similar to A Christmas Carol. I enjoyed it.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11451071-jacob-t-marley?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=AjxwRrVEDt&rank=1

Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett. Jacob Marley is Scrooge’s former business partner and the ghost that warns Scrooge of his likely doom and chance for redemption through the three Christmas spirits. This is his story. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s Goodreads rating is 4.13 stars.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6225520/

The Man Who Invented Christmas. Obviously, this film focuses on the why and how behind Dickens’ masterpiece. I haven’t seen this movie yet but focuses on a Christmas Carol from a fresh perspective and stars Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens so it can’t be too bad.

A Christmas Carol is a beloved story that’s been told and retold for almost two centuries. Scrooge’s powerful redemption experience juxtaposed against the atmospheric backdrop of a Victorian Christmas setting has impacted generations of people. I wonder what Charles Dickens would say about it’s success?

I hope you discover something new to love about A Christmas Carol and find this quote to be true of yourself as it was of Ebenezer Scrooge:

“And it was said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, every one!”

My Ten Most Recent Reads

Top 10 Tuesday is a long running bookish link up which offers a weekly prompt for book bloggers and bloggers who simply love books. I’m excited to participate in today’s theme: My 10 Most Recent Reads.

Lately, my book choices have been dictated by two things: my desire to cull my unread bookshelves (both physical and digital) and my participation in The Book Voyage: Read Around the World reading challenge hosted by The Book Girls’ Guide. To turbocharge the culling process, I’ve been reading more than one book for each category of the challenge. This is the reason many of the books in my list below will seem related. Books are listed in order of completion along with their setting and my emotionally driven and very subjective star ratings.

The Last 10 Books I’ve Read

  1. Disappearing Earth by Julia Philips. Kamchatka Penninsula (Russia) for the Eastern Europe category. 4 stars
  2. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. Chechnya for Eastern Europe category. 4 stars
  3. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. Ancient Troy (Turkey) for Middle East category. 5 stars
  4. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. East Prussia for Eastern Europe category. 4 stars
  5. Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys. Lithuania and Russia for the Eastern Europe category. 4.25 stars
  6. If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha. South Korea for Northern Asia category. 3.5 stars
  7. Monsoon Mansion by Cinelle Barnes. The Philippines for Southern Asia category. 3.5 stars
  8. Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck. China for Northern Asia category. 3.75 stars
  9. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan. Taiwan for Northern Asia category. 4 stars
  10. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Korea and Japan for Northern Asia category. 4.25 stars

My recent reads have been intense, dishing out large doses of hardship, tragedy and trauma. But, I’m also getting a crash course in world geography, history and culture. I am constantly searching the Internet for clarification about dates, places, foreign words, native/traditional costumes and historical context. The reading challenge has also proved beneficial in helping me reduce the number of unread books cluttering up my life. Of the ten books listed above, eight had been wallowing in book purgatory for years.

Educating myself, decluttering my shelves and completing categories for the Book Voyage reading challenge – now that’s a winning combination.

What have you been reading lately?

My Reading Life: Sleeper Hits of 2020

So, what is a Sleeper Hit?

The entertainment industry uses the term to describe a movie that becomes a big hit despite a small financial investment, little promotion and/or slow opening success.  I use the term to describe a book I expect to be good (or even great) but ends up exceeding all my expectations.  Sleeper Hits aren’t always 5 star books.  They do garner at least a solid 4 star rating and are always a happy surprise when it comes to my personal enjoyment of them.

My reading life in 2020 was no differet than the rest of my life in 2020 – weird. I alternated between binge reading comfort genres and long dry spells of no reading at all. Even with all the reading weirdness, I still managed to consume 71 books. This amazes me, because I’m currently experiencing one of those long dry spells and feel like I haven’t picked up a book in weeks. A Sleeper Hits of 2020 post almost didn’t materialize because I wasn’t sure I’d have enough books to write about. As I looked through my stats on Goodreads, though, I was reminded of several books that were wonderful surprises and I’m happy to share them with you. Hopefully, you’ll be inspired to try a book or two from the selection below or make a list of your own Sleeper Hits.

Stephany’s Sleeper Hits of 2020

What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon, narrated by Saskia Maarleveld and Will Damron. A time travel tale set in 1920s Ireland during the struggle for independence from England, What the Wind Knows is surprisingly informative and suspenseful.

My Goodreads note: A great time travel book with a fascinating peek at 1920s Irish history. I was engaged from the beginning and fell in love with the setting, storyline and characters. I can’t help myself – I love a bit of fantasy, especially when it’s mingled with believable real world stuff. 4.5 stars.

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare. Shortly after the COVID – 19 quarantine began in March, I went on a Regency romance reading rampage. This is not a genre I typically turn to but it kept me reading during a difficult time so I’m going to honor it here. Romancing the Duke is a fun riff on Beauty and the Beast that absolutely doesn’t take itself seriously. (Warning – this is an open door romance, meaning intimate activities are described in detail. If that’s not your jam, just skip those parts or skip the book.)

My Goodreads note: A surprisingly smart, enjoyable and engaging Regency romance with a very open door (which I can skip, truthfully, because the writing is just corny). I liked the incongruence of modern sensibilities set in the early 1800s. It feels very tongue in cheek; the author is definitely trying this and I appreciate the absurdity. A palate cleanser/recovery read with very likable characters, propulsive storyline and happy ending (of course). 4 stars.

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier, narrated by Michael Page. Welcome to middle grade fiction with a Charles Dickons vibe and loads of magic and mayhem. If you are looking for an escape from the the current reality we find oursleves facing, give Peter Nimble (or any of Jonathan Auxier’s other books) a try.

My Goodreads note: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes was fantastic. This quest/hero myth is filled with lovable characters, hidden kingdoms, evil villians, talking animals and MAGIC. Action-packed means no lags in the story. There is death, abuse and other difficult topics in this book BUT there is also a very satisfying happily ever after. Love Jonathan Auxier! I will continue to seek out his dark but hopeful stories. 5 stars.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, narrated by Philip Franklin. I read Into Thin Air shortly after both of my sons came home from college to quarantine in March and talked about it so much that my entire family went into an Everest deep dive. This book is a chilling (no pun intended) account of survival and death in a very inhospitable place.

My Goodreads note: I thought this was an excellent book as an eye-witness account by a journalist hiking Everest in 1996 during a deadly storm. It was gripping, touching, and (I felt) as honest as could be given the writer was a participant who survived and was still dealing with the guilt and shock of the experience. I learned so much. I talked about the book so much with my family. I continue to Google information about the tragedy and about Everest. It’s nonfiction that reads like a thriller. Aside: I will not be climbing Everest. 5 stars.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. I am not even sure how to describe this mindbender of a book which was recommended to me by my daughter. It’s a complicated mystery that requires complete concentration from its reader. I experienced one of the worst book hangovers in years after reading this one.

My Goodreads note: What did I just read?! A dark, propulsive mindbender of a book which would weirdly pair well with Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter. I’m exhausted from all the time-travel, sustained urgency, and abundance of facts and people to keep straight. There are several mysteries going on, not just Evelyn Hardcastle’s death, but I wasn’t really trying to figure them out. I just wanted to enjoy the ride. And what a crazy ride it was! I’m not sure I’ll be able to sleep; my brain is too agitated… 4.5 stars.

The Night Tiger written and narrated Yangze Choo. This book, filled with myth and magical realism, transported me to the Malay penninsula in the 1930s, which was colonized by the British. The audiobook, narrated by the author, was a joy to listen to and enhanced the reading experience for me.

My Goodreads note: Thoroughly enjoyed this book, even though it was a slow start for me. The peek into Malaysia, the myths and legends of the area (especially weretigers), all the superstitions, the 1930s timeframe, the mysteries that propelled the storyline – quite fascinating and so different from my experience of the world. The stories of Ren and Ji are beautifully and expertly entwined. There is a lot going on, gilded with the fantastical. A long, langorous ride with a few rapids. Audiobook superb for pronunciation and accent. Def in my lane. 5 stars.

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon, narrated by Barrie Kreinik and Peter Ganim. I need to thank Anne Bogel from Modern Mrs. Darcy for putting Code Name Helene on her 2020 MMD Summer Reading Guide. I’m weary of WWII stories so I don’t think I would have given this book a second thought without her praise of it. Ariel Lawhon bases her fictional story on the real, larger than life Australian, Nancy Wake, and I was blown away by it and by her.

My Goodreads note: Excellent! Loved the structure of two timelines converging. Loved the characters. Loved the fact that this was based on a real woman who had a tremendous impact on the outcome of WWII in France. Fantastic storytelling. Loved Henri and his relationship with Nancy. Not an easy book to read but I’m so glad I did. Audiobook narrator was superb. Highly recommend! 5 stars.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Sherman Alexie has a gift for infusing difficult situations with humor and hope. And make no mistake – this book is full of difficult and heartbreaking situations experienced by a Native American teen in Spokane, Washington. Still, the beautiful writing, the realistically portrayed experiences, the clever illustrations and the undercurrent of quirky familial love and respect make The Absolutely True Diary a pleasure to read.

My Goodreads note: From the very first sentence I was hooked. How can a story that covers such incredibly difficult topics be funny and ultimately hopeful? I don’t know, but Sherman Alexie is a master magician doing exactly that. Why did I wait so long to read this? Fiction really works for me when I want to learn about someone’s life experience, especially when it is so different from my own. And Arnold “Junior” Spirit’s freshman year is light years away from my own high school experience. Wow, what a book!! I highly recommend it. 5 stars.

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow. I’ll admit that The Other Bennet Sister will probably only be appreciated by Pride and Prejudice lovers. However, if you are someone who knows and loves that classic well, then Other Bennet Sister will be right up your alley. Janice Hadlow skillfully imagines the life of Mary Bennet, the plain, prim and intense middle sister in the Bennet family and in the process creates a believable and interesting story. This book was a treat!

My Goodreads note: Absolutely loved this book. Mary is given a personality, an inner life and believable experiences that mold her into the unhappy character of Jane Austen’s P & P. What made this so enjoyable was the growth of Mary post P & P – her maturity and self-awareness. Well written, with a similar tone to P & P, I found myself getting grouchy when I didn’t have time to indulge in the story when I wanted to. Of course, there is a happy, believable ending and for this story, that was what I wanted. 4.5 stars.

The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson. This book came out of nowhere. I never heard of it or the author until I came across it in an e-book sale. It’s a coming of age story that reads like a memoir. I honestly love books like this – weird books with unusual and often sad or dark surprises, yet which are ultimately hopeful and uplifting. I don’t want to say too much; this book should be approached with no preconceived notions.

My Goodreads note: Just wonderful! Everything I love – coming of age story in a short timeframe, beautiful writing, strong sense of place, unexpected story arc. Wistful, bittersweet, nostalgic. Tragedy juxtaposed with hope. Reads very much like a memoir. Loved it. 4.5 stars.

There you have it – my happy reading surprises of 2020! Although I am not hopeful in the least that 2021 will, in general, be an upgrade from 2020, I am hopeful that I will encounter more Sleeper Hits in this new year. I’m certainly off to a good start and it’s only the second week in January.

How about you? Do any of these books sound good to you? Or, do you have Sleeper Hits you want to share? Please do in the comments below.

My Reading Life: Sleepers Hits of 2019

Last January I set 2 reading goals that I was confident I could reach.  The first was a Goodreads goal to read 60 books in 2019.  I exceeded this goal with ease, topping off at 72 books.  I fell into a pretty nasty reading slump in November and December (which was directly related to my second goal) or I probably could have ticked off a few more books by the end of the year.

My second goal was to complete the Booklist Queen’s (formally the Pingel Sisters’) 2019 Reading Challenge containing 52 reading prompts.  I completed 42 prompts and then realized I was left with several of the harder, less appealing prompts to finish the challenge.  As a hard core mood reader, I found the prompts beginning to feel dictatorial and restrictive and I quickly lost my desire to pick up any book.  Thankfully that dark time has passed; I read four books in 2020 and one of them will probably make my Sleeper Hits list for 2020.  Of the 72 books I read in 2019, ten were true Sleeper Hits for me and I can’t wait to share them here.

So, what is a Sleeper Hit?

The entertainment industry uses the term to describe a movie that becomes a big hit despite a small financial investment, little promotion and/or slow opening success.  I use the term to describe a book I expect to be good (or even great) but ends up exceeding all my expectations.  Sleeper Hits aren’t always 5 star books.  They garner at least a solid 4 star rating and are always a happy surprise when it comes to my personal enjoyment of them.

I keep track of the books I read on Goodreads.  I don’t write public reviews but I do write a private note about each book I attempt or finish.  Instead of writing formal explanations for my Sleeper Hits in this post, I thought it would be fun to quote my private Goodreads note about each book.  These notes are not intellectual.  They are my gut reactions to what I’ve read and will provide an insight into my initial thoughts and feelings about each book.

Without further delay, Stephany’s Sleeper Hits of 2019…

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger.  (Read February 2019, 5 stars). I loved this book!  Beautifully written.  Hefty content with a very light touch.  The characters are so memorable, especially Rueben and Swede but also Dad and Roxanne.  I laughed out loud.  I wanted to sob, too, but I controlled myself because I wasn’t alone.  The Christianity that I live is realistically displayed here and is believable (even the miracles).  And the peek into heaven is exhilarating.  Why did I wait so long to read this book?  I’m sure my thoughts will return to it again and again. 

Anne of Green Gables, written by L. M. Montgomery and narrated by Rachel McAdams.  (Audiobook, February 2019, 5 stars).  I love this book so much!  Matthew and Marilla are so wonderful.  Anne is a pip.  And L. M. Montgomery’s descriptions are sublime.  Such growth!  I’m sure I didn’t love this book as much the first time I read it (when I was younger) but I know I loved it.  Rachel McAdams does a lovely job with the narration, too.  I’m going to read the second book because I can’t help myself.  I wish Rachel narrated that one, too.

My Sister, the Serial Killer, written by Oyinkan Braithwaite and narrated by Adepero Oduye.  (Audiobook, March 2019, 4 stars).  Well, this was an unusual and interesting story and I did enjoy it.  I certainly inhaled it, anyway.  I just don’t know how to review it because my feelings are mixed.  The good: interesting premise – the main character is the older sister of young woman who is also a psychopathic serial killer of boyfriends.  Older sister cleans up the messes related to younger sister’s dirty deeds.  Flashbacks relate sisters’ issues to abusive, sociopathic father.  Younger sister does not change at all throughout story.  Older sister changes for the worse and that’s my struggle.  She gave up so much to be her sister’s “caretaker”! 

The Parfit Knight, written by Stella Riley and narrated by Alex Wyndham.  (Audiobook, April 2019, 4 stars).  A very fun 18th century historical romance/comedy of misunderstandings along the lines of Georgette Heyer.  Loved the narrator (Alex Wyndham), too.  I’m not a romance reader but this book read more like a fairytale, which I love.  Really liked the main romance between Rosalind and Amberly as well as the secondary one between  Phillip and Isabel.  Amberly’s friends are good characters, too.  Isabel’s brother is perfectly evil.  A light, satisfying read – would definitely consider the next book.

Good Morning, Midnight, written by Lily Brooks-Dalton and narrated by John H. Mayer and Hillary Huber.  (Audiobook/read July 2019, 4.5 stars).  Very solid four stars for this soft apocalyptic literary novel.  Beautiful writing.  Characters with interesting headspaces (Augie and Sully).  Stark setting (the Arctic, space).  Not plot-driven by any means, but that didn’t matter to me.  This book is written to be savored and pondered over.  Themes include loneliness, connectedness, purpose, regret.  Not for Sci-Fi readers who want drama or action (the apocalypse is never articulated), for sure, but I enjoyed it immensely.  Audiobook was great, by the way.

Recursion, written by Blake Crouch and narrated by John Lindstrom and Abby Craden.  (Audiobook, August 2019, 5 stars). Wow, wow, wow!  What a thrilling, exhausting, thought provoking mindbender of a read.  I had no idea what I was stepping into.  I liked Dark Matter but this just felt so much deeper, more stressful and better developed.  I loved exploring the concepts of time, memory and self-knowing and how they intersect. With the right creative leadership, this would make some kind of intense thrill ride of a movie.  It has the feel of Inception.  Loved this!

Nine Coaches Waiting written by Mary Stewart and narrated by Ellie Haydon. (Read August 2019, 4 stars).  Four solid stars.  Lovely writing.  Engrossing story/mystery.  Interesting characters with a capable female lead.  I read this in a little over 2 days – unputdownable.  Not high literature but wholly entertaining.  I will definitely read more Mary Stewart.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.  (Read September 2019, 5 stars).  Melancholic.  Pervasive sadness.  Implicit evil and related blindness to the immorality.  “A page-turner and a heartbreaker, a tour de force of knotted tension and buried anguish.”  TIME
I have so many feelings about this book.  The dystopian aspect is always an evil, dark undercurrent but the innocence, the growth and the relationships of the main characters are at the forefront.  Much to think about – will stay with me for a long time.

Atomic Habits by written and narrated by James Clear.  (Audiobook, September 2019, 5 stars).  Excellent, succinct, applicable approach to building habits and making positive changes.  I’ve already applied some of the concepts to health changes I want to make and it is working! Listened to this (narrated by author), but also bought the book and will reread.  Highly, highly recommend.

Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher.  (Read December 2019, 4 stars).  Exceptionally charming – setting, characters, story.  Especially loved the Scotland setting and Christmas time frame.  Hope from very difficult situations.  Ultimately a good feeling, warm fuzzy story.  Highly recommend as a palate cleanser or reading slump/book hangover recovery book.

I have a few honorable mentions this year, too.  These books were better than I expected but not to the degree that my mind was blown.  My Sleeper Hit honorable mentions are:

  • The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan, narrated by Patrick Lawlor (Audiobook, May 2019, 4.5 stars).  A fascinating deep dive into the Dust Bowl period of American history.
  •  Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore.  (Read September 2019, 4 stars)  Fun, frothy, STEAMY historical romance with surprisingly good writing and solid research into the suffragette movement in England.
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.  (Read November 2019, 4 stars).  Beautiful, philosophical writing focused on the natural world and the intentions of its creator.

Do you have any Sleeper Hits you’d like to share?  Please do in the comments.