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?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 Year of Books

Okay, I'm closing the book on 2013 and publishing the list of all the books I finished this year.  I'm hoping to write a "best of 2013" post while 2014 is still young, but we'll see about that.

August Folly by Angela Thirkell
(audiobook, narrated by Wanda McCaddon)

Smart Girls Get What They Want by Sarah Strohmeyer

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
(audiobook, narrated by Hope Davis)

The Brandons by Angela Thirkell
(audiobook, narrated by Nadia May)

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
(audiobook, narrated by Holter Graham)

Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty
(library book)

The Good House by Ann Leary
(audiobook, narrated by Mary Beth Hurt)

Truth in Advertising by John Kenney
(audiobook, narrated by Robert Petkoff)

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
(paperback, advance reader copy won in a giveaway!!)

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

Outtakes from a Marriage by Ann Leary
(library book)

Love Is a Canoe by Ben Schrank
(library book)

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
(audiobook, narrated by Caroline Lee)

Parlor Games by Maryka Biaggio
(audiobook, narrated by Leslie Carroll)

Juliet in August by Dianne Warren
(audiobook, narrated by Cassandra Campbell)

Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
(audiobook, narrated by Catherine Taber)

Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
(library book)

News from Heaven by Jennifer Haigh
(audiobook, narrated by Therese Plummer, Alexander Cendese, Cynthia Darlow, Christian Baskous)

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne
(library book)

Provincial Daughter by R.M. Dashwood

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

When It Happens to You:  A Novel in Stories by Molly Ringwald

Beach Colors by Shelley Noble

Skinny:  A Novel by Diana Spechler

The Smart One by Jennifer Close
(library book)

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
(audiobook, narrated by Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra)

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore
(audiobook, narrated by Adenrele Ojo and Pamella D'Pella)

The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding
(library book)

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes
(audiobook, narrated by Caroline Lennon)

Trust Me on This by Jennifer Crusie
(audiobook, narrated by Angela Dawe)

Good Kids by Benjamin Nugent
(library book)

Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer
(audiobook, narrated by Barbara Leigh-Hunt)

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
(audiobook, narrated by Ruth Ozeki)

The Best of Us by Sarah Pekkanen

The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam
(audiobook, narrated by Graeme Malcolm)

The View from Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman
(library book)

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

All You Could Ask For by Mike Greenberg

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
(audiobook, narrated by Kathleen McInerney)  

Tempest-tost:  The Salterton Trilogy, Book 1 by Robertson Davies
(audiobook, narrated by Frederick Davidson)

Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel
(audiobook, narrated by Bernadette Dunne)

Unnatural Habits by Kerry Greenwood
(audiobook, narrated by Stephanie Daniel)

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
(audiobook, narrated by Amy Rubinate)

Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand
(audiobook, narrated by Therese Plummer)

The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
(audiobook, narrated by XE Sands)

These Girls by Sarah Pekkanen
(ebook, read on phone)

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Joyland by Stephen King

The Queen of the Tambourine by Jane Gardam

The Cuckoo's Calling by Roberth Galbraith
(audiobook, narrated by Robert Glenister)

Drinking Closer to Home by Jessica Anya Blau
(ebook, read on phone)

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
(audiobook, narrated by Lynn Chen)

& Sons by David Gilbert
(audiobook, narrated by George Newbern)

Less Than Angels by Barbara Pym
(ebook, read on phone)

Ladies' Night by Mary Kay Andrews
(ebooks, narrated by Kathleen McInerney, CDs downloaded to ipod)

Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen by Alix Kates Shulman
(ebook, read on phone)

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
(audiobook, narrated by Rebecca Lowman, listened to on Playaway from library)

Instructions for a Heat Wave by Maggie O'Farrell
(library book)

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons
(audiobook, narrated by James Adams)

The Writing Class by Jincy Willett

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
(audiobook, narrated by Alice Rosengard)

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
(library book)

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Mason
(audiobook, narrated by Suzy Jackson)

Amy Falls Down: A Novel by Jincy Willett
(library book)

The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye
(audiobook, narrated by Steven Boyer)

Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
(library book)

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
(audiobook, narrated by Rebecca Lowman and Maxwell Caulfield)

Pride and Prejudice* by Jane Austen
(audiobook, narrated by Flo Gibson)

The Hive by Gill Hornby
(audiobook, narrated by Karen Cass)

Transatlantic by Colum McCann
(audiobook, narrated by Geraldine Hughes)

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
(audiobook, narrated by Emily Janice Card)

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan
(library book)

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Flanagan's Run by Tom McNab
(audiobook, narrated by Rupert Degas)

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Circle by Dave Eggers
(audiobook, narrated by Dion Graham)

Stay Close by Harlan Coben
(audiobook, narrated by Scott Brick)

Return to Oakpine by Ron Carlson
(audiobook, narrated by David Aaron Baker)  

Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding

Sheltering Rain by Jojo Moyes

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
(audiobook, narrated by Katherine Kellgren)

A Nantucket Christmas by Nancy Thayer
(library book)

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg
(audiobook, narrated by Fannie Flagg)

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen
(audiobook, narrated by Katherine Kellgren)

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood
(audiobook, narrated by Tavia Gilbert)

Heft by Liz Moore
(audiobook, narrated by Kirby Heyborne & Keith Szarabajka)

Christmas Bliss by Mary Kay Andrews

Stay by Allie Larkin
(audiobook, narrated by Julia Whelan)

The Debutante by Kathleen Tessaro

The Commitment by Dan Savage
(audiobook, narrated by Paul Michael Garcia)

The Dinner Diaries:  Raising Whole Wheat Kids in a White Bread World by Betsy Block

Below Stairs:  The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey" by Margaret Powell
(library book)

Servants' Hall: A Real Life Upstairs, Downstairs Romance by Margaret Powell
(library book)

Wheat Belly by William Davis
(audiobook, narrated by Tom Weiner)

Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?: A Mennonite Finds Faith, Meets Mr. Right, and Solves Her Lady Problems by Rhoda Janzen
(library book)

You Must Go and Win by Alina Simone
(audiobook, narrated by Alina Simone)

Elsewhere: A Memoir by Richard Russo

Give Me Everything You Have:  On Being Stalked by James Lasdun
(library book)

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam
(audiobook, narrated by Laura Vanderkam)

I Can't Complain:  (All Too) Personal Essays by Elinor Lipman
(library book)

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls:  Essays, Etc. by David Sedaris
(library book)

My Misspent Youth:  Essays by Meghan Daum
(ebook, Readmill app on iphone)

She Matters:  A Life in Friendships by Susan Sonnenberg

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

After Visiting Friends:  A Son's Story by Michael Hainey

Call the Midwife:  A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth
(audiobook, narrated by Nicola Barber)

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
(library book)

"You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth" and Other Things You'll Only Hear from Your Friends in the Powder Room by Leslie Marinelli (and many other female bloggers)

Seriously... I'm Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
(audiobook, narrated by the author)

Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin: A Memoir by Nicole Hardy
(library book)

Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son by Martin Sheen & Emilio Estevez
(audiobook, narrated by the authors)

The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars by Paul Collins
(audiobook, narrated by William Dufris)

You're Not Pretty Enough by Jennifer Tress

* indicates a re-read.