Looking Back, Looking Forward

My lovely holiday book tree.
When I started 2013, I made a resolution to read 100 books this year, and let's just say mission accomplished. As you can see from my Pinterest board here, I've read 114. That's more than I thought I would read, to be honest.
What really helped me reach the goal was all of the air travel I started in June - there's a lot to be said for a Kindle and some flight delays. 
But what you may have noticed is that something else took a back seat. I had so much fun reading everything I could get my hands on that I had less and less time to write about it. For those who want to see what I thought about every book I read this year, I have been providing mini-reviews on that Pinterest board. 
So my resolution for 2014 will be to read less (maybe) and blog more (definitely). I like to write as much as I like to read, so I'll try to balance the scales a bit in the new year.
Meanwhile, since it's traditional on this infamous Eve, let's rewind a bit and look back at my favorite books from 2013 (listed in no particular order). This was tough because I read a lot of great books this year - but I got each genre down to the top five picks, except for fiction. There were just too many good books in the fiction category this year. And that isn't a bad thing.
Can't wait to see what 2014 brings me to read.
Happy New Year!

Top 5 in Biographies

Heir Apparent, by Jane Ridley. It can be hard to find something new and fresh to say about a life lived very much in the public eye, but this book about Edward VII hits the mark with a very engaging read.
Queen of the Air, by Dean Jensen. The story of how Leitzel (just one name, please) became the biggest star ever for the Ringling Bros. is look behind the curtains of the famous circus, with a diminutive but daring star at its center.
Mo' Meta Blues, by Questlove. If you're a fan of The Roots (and you'd better be), you know that Questlove is the heart and soul of the group, and in this book he takes a trip down memory lane, providing us with a playlist of memories along the way.
After Visiting Friends, by Michael Hainey. This real-life mystery shines a light on the world of hard-core news reporters, on a young widow trying to cope after the death of a husband, and on a young man who needs to find the truth about his father.
Fever, by Mary Beth Keane. Okay, this is a fictionalized account of the real-life Typhoid Mary, but Keane did her research, using news reports and medical records to breathe life into Mary, the first person identified as a healthy carrier of the dangerous fever. Couldn't put it down.

Top 5 (7) in Fiction 

Tilted World, by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly. Last year, Franklin's Crooked Letter Crooked Letter was my #1 fave. This book is a close second, with a compelling drama of a bootlegger, a revenuer, and the 1927 Mississippi flood.
Lexicon, by Max Barry. An absolutely unique story about a group with the ability to use words to control and persuade others to do their bidding. In this fabulous and complex book, words do hurt.
The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, by Elizabeth L. Silver. On death row for murder, a young woman is visited by the mother of her victim. The mother will fight to halt the death sentence if Noa will just tell her story, something she's refused to do before. Did Noa commit that murder it, or didn't she? Ah, that's just the point.
The Cleaner of Chartres, by Salley Vickers. This is a quiet and lovely story of a young woman who appears, seemingly out of nowhere, and weaves herself into the very fabric of a small town. I read it straight through in one night.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. Harold Fry was just an ordinary Englishman, simply putting one foot in front of the other, but not really living. And then he received a letter from a long-lost friend and his life took a detour. This is probably the book that touched me the most all year.
The Orphan Master's Son, by Adam Johnson. Of all the much-lauded and award-nominated books this year, this was my favorite. Pak Jun Do is the "son" from the title, who grew up in a North Korean orphanage run by his father. The book paints a vivid picture of a secretive, brutal, and self-destructive country, and a man determined to survive it.
Joyland, by Stephen King. This gentle (and fantastic) ghost story is so well written and wistful - and it was another that I read in one sitting. It's a nostalgic tale of a young man who finds a summer job in 1973 at a possibly-haunted amusement park.

Top 5 in Mysteries

Cuckoo's Calling, by Robert Gailbraith J.K. Rowling. Forget all the hoopla about Rowling writing under a pseudonym and just read this great mystery. It will remind you that Rowling deserved the writing accolades for the Potter series - it's that good.
Snow White Must Die, by Nele Neuhaus. This modern-day mystery has a tinge of the fairy tale about it, and not just because of the title. It centers on a man wrongly convicted of murder and a twisted village full of malice.
Defending Jacob, by William Landy. Everything unravels when a man's son is arrested for murder. Like any parent protecting his child, the father is determined to find the true killer, but that isn't as simple as he believes. Watch out for a mega-mind-twist.
Round House, by Louise Erdrich. I've recommended this book to about everyone I know. It's a tough tale about a 13-year-old boy whose mother is brutally attacked on their reservation, so he and his friends make it their mission to find the man who did it.
Gods and Beasts, by Denise Mina. This woman cannot write fast enough for me. I inhale each of her books, featuring a feisty female Detective Sergeant in Glasgow, this time investigating a murder, robbery, and political intrigue.

Top 5 in Nonfiction

This Town, by Mark Leibovich. This Town opens with Tim Russert's funeral, a crass and crazy event for Washington insiders. After the first few pages, you'll find yourself as agog as Dorothy was when the curtain pulled back to reveal the true Oz. You think you know how bad Washington is, but you have no idea.
Going Clear, by Lawrence Wright. A well-written, well-researched, and endlessly fascinating look inside the world of Scientology. How bad can a religion be that's founded by a man who is at turns a bully, a misogynist, a dreamer, and a fantasist? Pretty bad.
The Astronaut Wives Club, by Lily Koppel. Behind every great man...is an astrowife. The Mercury Seven astronauts were feted and lauded, as their wives took care of things back on Earth. But they also found themselves in a spotlight they didn't ask for and their marriages played out for the whole world, for better and for worse.
Asylum, by Simon Doonan. Is there anything better than a dishy look behind the scenes? Oh yes there is, particularly when the "scene" is the fashion world, and when our guide is the ever-cheeky Mr. Doonan. Crazy indeed.
Londoners, by Craig Taylor. Yes, I am an Anglophile. I admit it. But this is not your ordinary Brit Lit - it was a five-year project that gathered interviews with Londoners (and lovers of London) of all ages and from all backgrounds. Fascinating.

Top 5 Popcorn Books

Note: I define "popcorn books" as those that are fast and not-so-filling reads. They must feature good writing, and they must be FUN.
The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion. The dating/mating world is confusing enough for "normal" people, but it's hilariously hazardous for socially awkward and super-genius-level geneticists.
Fin & Lady, by Cathleen Schine. A funny and sweet story of love, loss, and learning the true definition of a family.
The Hive, by Gill Hornby. In every hive, there is always a Queen Bee. This book brings the buzz, with plenty of stings and honey from a group of competitive moms.
Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan. This is a Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous for the eastern side of the planet, with an inside look at how the super-wealthy of Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai spend all that cash.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. An amusing tale about a mom who has trouble fitting into her life in Seattle. When she disappears, her young daughter learns more than she bargained for about her fabulously complicated mom.

No comments:

Post a Comment