So, here's *my* list of the ten books I enjoyed best this year. See how that's not as snazzy a blog title?
In no particular order:
These are the ten best books *I read* in 2014. Not all of them were released in 2014. But really, who restricts their reading only to the year books are released? Missed The Poisonwood Bible back in '98? Too bad! You better finish up The Emperor Waltz, misogynistic though it is, then move on to something you actually want to read.
So, here's *my* list of the ten books I enjoyed best this year. See how that's not as snazzy a blog title?
In no particular order:
You might also enjoy...
I have been waiting nearly a year to post this. I have barely been able to contain myself.
Yes, I am that much of a book dork.
Ready for some more dork? Generally I follow a fiction liturgy if you will, matching the type of book to the time of year —it's what spawned my "Books for all Seasons" posts— but last January, when I should have been picking up a dense classic, probably by a Russian, I could not help digging in to John Boyne's pitch-perfect gothic ghost story, This House is Haunted. I mean, c'mon, the cover alone is irresistible. Plus, I'm researching ghosts for my own book. So stop judging me, man.
As with most good ghost stories, it's set in the mid-1800's in a middle of no-where English manor, aptly named Gaudlin Hall. Eliza, young, single, and stubborn in the face of fear, has taken a post as a governess (duh), for two small, precociously adorable children (double-duh) and arrives to find said children basically fending for themselves...quite well thank you very much.
There is the stock list of creepy characters: the strangely absent employer, the tight-lipped cook, the solicitor. And of course, the ghost. Or are there more than one? Mwaaa-ha-ha-haaaaa.
Forgetting for a moment Boyne's luminous writing, his Dickensonian voice, and his delicious descriptions, what hooked me on this book was Eliza's first night at Gaudlin Hall. Let me just say it involves drifting off to sleep only to find one's ankles being grabbed. Through the bed.
Excuse me while I change my bloomers.
Yes it's very Turn of the Screw meets Jane Eyre. But it's how Boyne uses these archetypes to mold his own tale of terror that keeps one up at night, not just quaking, but also devouring each page.
Boyne's most well-known book is The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas, and he writes for both the young adult and adult market.
Since reading This House is Haunted, Boyne has become one of my most beloved historical fiction authors. And, he's Irish. Which gives him cred just because.
I've plowed through The House of Special Purpose, Next of Kin so far and, once the dust of my literary liturgy settles next spring, I'll be curled up with his newest, A History of Loneliness (Spring 2015 US, available now in the UK). Let's read it together, shall we? Don't worry, I'll remind you. (Read, harass you almost as much as I harass you about reading my books because I friggin' love this guy if you haven't figured that out already.)
Until then, get your jolly good Halloween spook on with This House is Haunted.
And invest in some night lights.
Did you like The Red Tent? Uh, who didn't like The Red Tent?
I actually re-read it when I was pregnant with my first child and having horrible "morning" sickness. I tried to find something - anything - in the Bible that might give me solace, or at least some insight into how the women of Biblical times handled their pregnancies. Look, I've got a fancy degree in theology so I know 99.9% of the Bible was written by men, but come on - not even anything on the Virgin Mary? There's more written about Joseph's lineage and angel dream than Mary's pregnancy or birth. "And she gave birth to a son and wrapped him in cloths." Um, I'm pretty sure there was a bit more going on there.
Frustrated, I turned to Anita Diamant's gripping tale of Dinah and all her aunties trudging through the Levant under the yoke of a patriarchal, fiercely holy tribe that would become Israel.
In a similar way, so many (dare I say all? Probably an over-statement) stories of the life and times of Jesus are focused on the men involved. Never mind the fact that the women who followed Jesus risked so much more than their male counterparts to do so, never mind the fact that it was a woman who carried and bore him, women who stood by Him through his trial and execution and women who first discovered the empty tomb and first saw the risen Christ.
Still, all we get is the male perspective. Well, no longer.
In Margaret George's Mary Called Magdalene, we finally have a riveting, believable, heart wrenching, and spot on interpretation of one of the most fascinating women from the heart of Jesus' inner circle. Written with, as always, George's impeccable research, this immersive first person perspective will give even those who are not of the Christian faith a woman who's story, who's struggle, who's devotion to her beliefs and her family, who's woman-ness, transcends the centuries and the faiths.
This book has been call "the diary of a soul" and for good reason. I hope you enjoy diving into a world two thousand years ago and finding how one woman's journey can resonate through the years like a tuning fork to your own.
As with all my recommendations, I'd love to hear what you think of the book, so post a comment or send me an email. And in the meantime, Happy Passover, Easter and just plain spring to you all.
I'm one of those people who refuses to listen to Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving. None of this, "let's celebrate Valentine's Day on the 16th this year." Valentine's Day is February 14th. End of story.
So it makes sense that I like to read certain types of books at certain times of the year - gothic, spooky tales at Halloween, Dickensian heart-warmers at Christmas. There's something about following the calendar in my reading that helps me to not only savor, but mark each part of the year.
So, I thought I'd start a series on my blog called "Books for All Seasons." For every season or major holiday in the year, if I've got a recommendation to put into your yearly rotation, I'll blog about it.
I'd love for you to share what your seasonal favorites are too, so please comment away.
The inaugural book, is Blackberry Winter, by Seattle author Sarah Jio. Here's my review. Let me know what you think of the book, and even better, if you've got kind words to give, let Sarah know in a review of your own. Happy reading, friends!
Ms. Jio owes me. Big time. What does she owe me?
Blackberry Winter is an "oh I'll just read the next section and then turn off the light...damn it! How is it 1am?" read.
It seems to be a trend in historical fiction to write from the perspective of a modern day woman whose life intertwines with a woman from history - take Tara Conklin's House Girl as another great example. Some historical fiction purists don't like this, and maybe they have a point, but the story comes to the author as it comes to the author and if you're looking only for strict historical fiction, or bodice ripping romance this book isn't for you.
But if you want to snuggle up with some cocoa this winter and wrap yourself in an engrossing, heart-tugging and ultimately hopeful tale about two women a century apart struggling to find their way back to their purpose in life, back to love, back to reconciliation, then Blackberry Winter's for you.
The pace is perfect (see sentence #3 above), the characters believable and insightfully drawn, and I challenge anyone to read about the teddy bear in the snow and not have your eyes wet with tears, mother or no.
Jio's voice is like that of a good friend - there is a carefully crafted casualness that feels almost like a conversation. And yet there's nothing amateurish about her style, just more a sense of familiarity that makes reading her books feel like you're spending a weekend getaway with an longtime and interesting friend. You want to be with her and her characters on this journey.
It is my Book For All Seasons pick for January, and I hope it will be yours too!
For all you scurrying to finish holiday gifts, or just looking to relax with a good book during the long cold nights, here's my list of the 10 Books I Enjoyed in 2013
Why do these lists have to number ten? Oh well, I whilst jump on the band wagon, logic be damned.
These aren't necessarily books that were published in 2013, just books I happened to read this year and enjoyed enough to want to tell people about. I hope you enjoy them too.
Make an author's day and buy a book.
The Sacred River by Wendy Wallace
Set in the Victorian era, Ms. Wallace strikes gold again, weaving a lyrical tale of three women struggling to find their voice in a turbulent and exotic place - Egypt in 1882. Ms. Wallace's literary historical fiction sears one's heart and mind with images not soon forgotten and characters who speak into one's on life, even though they are a century apart. I will read anything she pens and am just waiting to hear the well-deserved news that she has won the Man-Booker prize.
Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis) by Kimberlee Conway Ireton
I really can't say it any better than the book description itself, other than, you will laugh, you will cry, it is better than Cats. Bring tissue to bed and ear plugs for your sleeping partner.
"By turns hilarious and heart-breaking, this debut memoir takes you on a roller coaster ride of hormonal disequilibrium, professional disappointment, hellacious sleep-deprivation and the black pit of postpartum depression, only to bring you laughing back to the light."
The Return by Michael Gruber
So in my other life as a podcast host/producer, we did a show on Stephen King and to prepare, I read King's newest, Joyland. While The Return is a thriller, not horror, it is by leaps and bounds the better book. People continue to compare Gruber to King, but Gruber's more astute, more soul shaking, more gifted in slowly wrapping the reader around his finger and pulling those strings tight 'til the very end. He manages to entertain in the midst of exploring themes of vengeance, violence, evil and what really is moral and just. The answers aren't easy, but you'll enjoy the ride.
The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain
I didn't expect to like this book. I worried that it was over-hyped, that it would stray so far from reality as to almost be fantasy. Instead I found a believable, lovable protagonist who struggled with the timeless questions of what we do for love, of where our partners end and we begin, of sacrifice as sacred or stupid or both. Telling the tale of Ernst Hemingway's first wife, Mclain gives us a glimpse not only into Paris of that time, but the beauty and heartbreak of a marriage that made literary history.
The House Girl by Tara Conklin
When "The Help" came out, there was backlash about the perceived audacity of a white woman writing the tale of black women. But in "The House Girl," Conklin pushes above the fray to give us a story of a human longing to be free in every fiber of her being. Yes, she's a black slave, but her story is that of the universal urgency to loose the yolk of oppression, to be one's own. Conklin pairs two women across the ages, struggling in their own way to shake off the past, shake off the chains of who society says they should be, to strike out on their own paths. This is breathless page-turner, written with a literary, yet accessible sensibility. Can't wait to read more of Conklin's work.
The Unveiling by Tamara Leigh
I write historical fiction because I love historical fiction. Now that I write it, I read it at my peril. On every page my mind is a buzz of writerly tension, trying to figure out the author's technique, voice, style. It takes the joy out of my favorite genre. Lucky for me, I found Ms. Leigh. Her story grabbed me so well that only when I had finished I remembered to turn my work brain back on again. All I wanted to do was get to bed and see how her protagonist would get out of the next scrape or would find the justice she sought. If you liked Heirs & Spares, you'll like The Unveiling too...and guess what? It's a series! Love it when that happens.
Shed by Julie Morgenstern
So we moved this year. In fact, we moved right as I was trying to finish up the first draft of God & King. Zoiks is right, if that's what you're thinking. But Shed is not just a book for decluttering the physical objects in your life, it's for shedding the time commitments, relationships and other "stuff" that we've filled our lives with that may not be life giving any more. Helpful book on many, many levels. Purge, people, purge!
Heirs & Spares by Yours Truly
Shameless plug, shameless plug, shameless plug. But, I did read this book about 12 times in 2013 alone and only got truly sick of it by round 9...so that's saying something, right?
My New Orleans by John Besh
First off, this is one of the prettiest cookbooks I've ever seen. It's like a coffee table cookbook. And while no, there isn't a recipe for a coffee table (oh, grammar!), if there ever were to be a recipe for a coffee table that would not only be appetizing, but you would stab others with a spork to eat, it would be created by John Besh. This is a "box of tissue" book as well, simply because you'll need something to wipe the drool off with.
The Gift of the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
If you are female and over the age, of let's just say, twenty-eight, this book is required reading. Multiple times. If you are male and interested in understanding the females in your life, this is also required reading. This is my third time through, as I read it every couple of years and it always, always, always has something to teach me about my life.