Saturday, December 21, 2013

Favorite Books of 2013

My goal was to read 50 books this year.  Right now, I have read 44.  To meet my goal, I need to read 6 books in the next 9 days.  It's possible, right?   I probably should be reading right now instead of writing about reading!

But I have something important to share today:  my favorite books of 2013.   I enjoyed many of the books that I read this year, so it is hard to pick favorites.  But I'm going to do my best.  To make it a little easier for me to narrow down the choices, I am only going to include books that were published in 2013.  I'm also linking to my review of each of these books, if you want to know more of my thoughts on any of them.

Favorite Fiction:
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
(technically this was published in the US on December 31, 2012.  But I've seen it on other 2013 book lists, so I'm counting it on mine!)  This was the first book I read in 2013, and it has stuck with me all year long.  I loved this book, but I also wanted to hate it at times. It's a love story about a quadriplegic and his caretaker.  It is a story that I devoured in nearly one sitting and one that I just cannot forget.  For that, I'm going to name it as my favorite book of the year.  Read it.  You may love it.  You may hate it.  But you will remember it.

Honorable Mention Fiction:
Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
This was a crazy book about a woman who keeps dying and then restarting her life again and again and again! I'm not sure that I fully understood what exactly was happening all the time, but it was so amazingly ambitious and unique that it is worth your time to read it.  (But be warned, it's a long book that requires your commitment...especially at the beginning).  I have never read a book like this before, and I don't expect to read one again.  That makes it worthy of an honorable mention on my best of 2013 list.

Favorite Young Adult Fiction:
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
This is just the sweetest little love story, set in the 80s.  The writing is smart and funny and cute without being sappy or cheesy.  Eleanor and Park are not your typical YA love interests; they are very real and flawed and still very likable.   This is a great story and a must read, in my opinion!

Honorable Mention Young Adult Fiction:
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
2013 was the year of Rainbow Rowell.  I had never heard of her before Eleanor and Park, but she also released Fangirl in 2013 as well.  It was also very good (with a couple minor exceptions), with great real characters and amazing dialogue and a funny, witty tone.   I also read Attachments by Rainbow Rowell this year (an older book) and it was great too.  Rainbow Rowell has quickly skyrocketed to one of my favorite authors, especially in the YA genre.

Favorite Nonfiction:
A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

This is the memoir of Amanda Lindhout, who was kidnapped in Somalia and held hostage for 460 days.  It is well-written, well paced and extremely inspiring.  I was blown away both by the horrible things that happened to Amanda and her unwaveringly positive response in the face of it all.  And even more impressive, her willingness to go back to the country that harmed her and try to help the people there.

Honorable Mention Nonfiction:
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan
This memoir about a reporter who suffered from an extremely rare virus which caused serious mental, psychotic and schizophrenic symptoms is a shocking story.  I was glued to the pages, both eager to read about what happened to Cahalan and terrified that I too might come in contact with a virus that might cause me to become mentally insane.   This is seriously fascinating stuff about how the brain works and what happens when it stops working correctly.

Life After Life

Life After Life
by Kate Atkinson

Genre:  Fiction
Published: 4/2/13 by Little Brown and Company
Pages:  529
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
4.5 out of 5 stars

(I was working on my year end Best of 2013 books, and I just realized that I forgot to post this review!!)

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson is an ambitious, fascinating novel about Ursula Todd, who dies in the first pages of the novel only to start her life over again.  Then she continues to live her life and die, again and again, in various ways.  Throughout her various lives, Ursula begins to discover that she might be able to control her fate and the fate of those around her.  In this story, death is not the end, it is only the beginning.  What if you had the chance to live your life over and over again until you finally got it right? 

I had a really hard time getting started with this book.  Especially in the first pages, the story starts and stops frequently as Ursula's lives are cut short.  Finally, about 150 pages into the book, the story stuck with one life long enough for me to begin to care about Ursula and the other characters in this story.  And then I was hooked! 

I read this book filled with both dread and curiosity, anxiously wondering when/how Ursula would die next.  It is dark and bleak.  It often seemed that no matter what life Ursula lived, she was doomed.  But this morbid curiosity is what made the book suspenseful and unpredictable and completely unlike any other book I have read. 

Then there is the ending.  Or is it the beginning?  At first, I was frustrated by the ending because it seemed vague and confusing.  What really happened?  Was Ursula finally able to get her life right, as the back of the book teases?  I have thoughts about this, but I'm not 100% sure!  Upon further thought, without spoiling too much, I have decided that the ending is a fitting way to finish this book about circular time, even though it may not be satisfying to the reader's curiosity.  And honestly, the journey of the whole book was unique and interesting and worth reading, even if I didn't fully understand the ending!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
by Maria Semple

Genre:  Fiction
Published:4/2/13 by Little Brown and Company
Pages:  330
Format:  Paperback

My rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Bernadette, a former architect turned private school Seattle mother, doesn't fit in with her fellow Seattlites.  And she might be a little crazy.  Then one day, she inexplicably disappears.  This book tells of the events surrounding her disapperance, as told by her teen daughter Bee through a compilation of letters, e-mails, articles and other correspondence.

Where'd You Go Bernadette is such a fun read!  This sarcastic and entertaining satire is refreshing and often very funny.  One chapter near the middle of the book specifically stuck out in my mind.  It is a chapter where Bernadette is writing a letter to a friend and explaining her life in Seattle.  Most of it consists of Bernadette bashing Seattle and the her fellow private school parents and the weather and Microsoft and many other things.  It was spot on and so hilarious.  Some really great, witty writing in this chapter especially.

The ending was a bit disappointing.  The tone of the book changes for the last 50 pages or so, and with that change, the fun, witty tone totally disappears.  The plot also gets a little crazy and unbelievable, causing the story to suffer here.  If the ending could have kept up with the other three fourths of the book, then I think this could have been a five star novel.

I would still highly recommend this book to everyone.  The rest of the book is great and makes it easy to forgive the lackluster ending!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Glitter and Glue

Glitter and Glue
by Kelly Corrigan

Genre:  Memoir
Pages:  240
Published:  2/11/14 by Random House
Format:  Advanced Reader's Copy

My rating:
4 out of 5 stars

I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book through Library Thing.

Glitter and Glue is a memoir written by Kelly Corrigan about mothers and daughters and what she understands about her relationship with her own mother. When Kelly travels to the other side of the world and becomes a nanny to a family in Australia who recently lost their mother, she learns to see her strict and seemingly overbearing mother in a new light.

This memoir is not what I expected, though I still enjoyed it. I knew it was about Corrigan's relationship with her mother. However I was surprised that there was very little live interaction between Kelly and her mother in this book. Most of what we learn about their relationship is told through flashbacks and Kelly's own observations. Yet it still worked. I think it is very true for many of us that we don't truly appreciate our mothers until we are away from them or until we are acting as mothers ourselves. Then, when we start seeing how much we act like our mothers now, so much about the way our mothers acted then begins to make sense.

Corrigan makes some keen observations about this throughout the book, and her style of writing was easy to read and enjoy. At first I was a little frustrated that the book ended, because I felt like so many loose ends were left untied. But the epilogue helped to answer some of my questions about Corrigan's current connection to her friends in Australia. And I would like to read Corrigan's other memoir, The Middle Place, to find out more about her struggle with cancer and how her mother played a role in that.

If, like me, you enjoy reading real stories about mothers and daughters, you should definitely add this one to your list.