Monday, January 6, 2014

2013 Reading Highlights

Presenting, in the approximate order in which they were read, My Favorite Books of 2013 ...

I apologize that I was too lazy to add any images and that some of these reviews are sketchy and/or generic.

The Good House by Ann Leary -- Leary slowly and masterfully unfolds the story of Hildy Good and her drinking problem.  Hildy is a flawed but lovable character (I found myself hoping her daughters would not find her empties, even as I knew someone needed to) who always wants "more, more, more."  At the end of this fantastic book, I still wanted more, more, more of Hildy.  Very memorable character.  Mary Beth Hurt's narration in the audio version is perfect.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes -- I won a copy of Me Before You in a giveaway hosted by Eleanor Brown (author of The Wierd Sisters, a great 2011 read) on her Facebook page.  Three book clubs with which I have ties have selected this book:  a story of friendship, love, and the biggest question of all:   what makes life worth living?  I read this book in one huge gulp and cried my eyes out at the end.  Read it.

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight -- This book was being touted as the new Gone Girl.  I buy that insofar as this book is a page turner that keeps you guessing, but the mother-daughter love at the heart of this mystery distinguishes it from Gone Girl.  No one sane wants to relive their teenage years.  This novel forces you to consider what it's like to live them in today's age of social media, texting, etc. -- NO!!!!

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro -- Almost everything I learned about painting, I learned from the "Picture Lady" moms in grade school and from the two Fine Arts presentations I have given at my kids' school.  This novel offered insight into the art world (including the dark aspects -- forgery, obsessive collecting, theft).  I learned a lot and enjoyed the book a great deal.  I have been meaning to hit the Art Institute ever since.

Joyland by Stephen King -- I always put Stephen King books in the category of "authors/books that are not for me" because titles like Pet Sematary just did not sound like my kind of thing.  Then, I started reading his columns in EW and got myself a little crush on him.  I listened to 11.22.63 --a time travel narrative and love story surrounding Kennedy's assassination--and could not believe how much I loved it and how firmly I felt that I was safe in the hands of a master.  Joyland is a less sweeping sort of book.  A coming-of-age tale and the sweetest hard crime novel you'll ever read.  You heard me right.

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith -- You've (probably) heard all the buzz about this book and its famous author.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, especially the interaction between Cormoran Strike and his assistant.  I look forward to the next one!

Amy Falls Down by Jincy Willett -- Willett is so darkly, perfectly funny and won my heart with Amy Falls Down (and its predecessor which I recommend reading first: The Writing Class) and its protagonist novelist/writing teacher.  Hilarious, satirical look at the publishing industry to boot.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell -- This book includes a pseudo-seduction scene that involves S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders?  Need I say more?  A total YA winner.  The book I wish I could hand to the teenage girls I saw reading Fifty Shades while working at the pool concession stand the past two summers.  Sweetness and heft.  Levi and Cath forever!

Longbourn by Jo Baker -- I wrote about this book in a previous post, and I am going to go ahead and cut and paste what I said:  This book tells the story of the servants of Longbourn, the Bennet estate in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, with their stories told to fit within the existing timeline and geography of the novel.  I read Pride and Prejudice once a year and love it with everything I've got.  Baker's Longbourn feels like a supplement to or extension of the novel, a gift offered by someone who knows and loves these characters as much as I and so many others do.  Beautifully written.  It will break and lift and fill your heart.  If it doesn't, you don't have a heart (I don't think I am joking here).  Ties for very favorite book of 2013.

Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding -- Bridget Jones's Diary was the book of my twenties (even though I was not necessarily was drinking, smoking, having sex in manner of Miss Jones, I loved and connected with Bridget the singleton).  I spent most of my thirties not even daring to hope that a third installment would ever come.  What a gift.  I laughed.  I cried real tears.  I want to read it again.  I'd want to read about Bridget in assisted living.  My other very favorite book of 2013.  England wins.

Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?:  A Mennonite Finds Faith, Meets Mr. Right, and Solves Her Lady Problems by Rhoda Janzen -- I'm not a Mennonite (as Janzen once was -- recounted in Mennonite in a Little Black Dress) or a Pentecostal (as she becomes).  I am a fan of the way Janzen writes about faith.  Looks like this book has been retitled Mennonite Meets Mr. Right.  I hope it finds the audience it deserves.

Elsewhere: A Memoir by Richard Russo -- It is rare for me to reread a novel, but I have read Russo's Empire Falls, Nobody's Fool, and Straight Man two times each.  Huge, huge fan.  I'd read his grocery list, but this story about his relationship with his mom is (presumably) even better.

After Visiting Friends:  A Son's Story by Michael Hainey -- Very well-written story of Hainey researching the true story of what happened the night his father died.  Loved the Chicago setting of this memoir.

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy -- Okay, fine, A Week in Winter was not one of my favorite books of 2013 (though I liked it) and not my favorite Maeve Binchy book ever (those are Scarlet Feather and The Glass Lake), but I wanted to mark Binchy's passing and honor the many happy hours I have spent in Ireland, thanks to her lovely, cozy, comforting books.  I can't believe there won't be another.

Honorable Mention Reading Experiences of 2013 ... I don't have the juice to write about the titles below, but I enjoyed them!

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

Return to Oakpine by Ron Carlson

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

Blue Plate Special:  An Autobiography of My Appetites by Kate Christensen

Favorite Books Read But Not Published in 2013 ...

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett -- begins with darkest news in coldest Minnesota and

Juliet in August by Dianne Warren -- quiet, lovely interconnected stories set in small Canadian town.

News from Heaven by Jennifer Haigh -- these stories form a sort of sequel to Haigh's Baker Towers and the fictional world of the coal-mining town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell -- am stealing a line from a dear friend and book lover who said of this book's high school protagonists, "I really felt their love."  This book made me less inclined to be dismissive of high school relationships.  I felt their love, loved them both, and won't be satisfied until Rainbow Rowell writes a sequel.

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes -- cannot resist a novel featuring a Walsh Sister.  These sisters are funny but their struggles are real.  Wit and substance.

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg -- did not completely love this novel, but dang if I am not still thinking about a masterful description of its heroine eating a McRib sandwich and of tweenage twins peforming a choreographed dance to "I Gotta Feeling" at their joint Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

Heft by Liz Moore -- heartbreaking but hopeful

Call the Midwife:  A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth -- have not yet seen the PBS series, but many of Worth's tales of midwifery in London's East End are still vivid in my mind months after finishing this book.  The audio version is excellent.

What were your favorite reads of the past year?

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