2013 is half over already? How did that happen? Flipping through my reading notebook in an attempt to answer that question brought the past few months into sharp relief for me. “Oh yes, April, when this, that and that happened, and I was reading XYZ.” In some ways more private than a diary, and yet in other ways more revealing, a reading log can give you a pretty good snapshot of what was going on in your life, as well as make it easier to recall and share titles when you run into somebody who might also enjoy that story you liked.
In the spirit of Amazon’s “best of 2013 so far” list, here’s my own tally of favorite titles this year, plus a few extra.
January: A Rule Against Murder / Louise Penny. The dead of winter is a wonderful time to wend your way through a mystery series, especially when the book you’re currently on is set in the middle of summer! The charming, courtly Inspector Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie are on holiday, but murder finds them anyhow. Although this is the fourth in the series, it works beautifully as a stand-alone because of the “locked-room” quality of the plot (the victim, and all the murder suspects, are guests at the same resort with the Gamaches). It’s also a great introduction to the beautiful Canadian landscapes Penny paints; reading her descriptions makes me want to pack a suitcase and head for the wilds. Try it on for size, and then, if you like it, go back to the beginning with Still Life.
February: Code Name Verity / Elizabeth Wein. Chosen for her excellent command of German–she was reading it at University before the war–Verity is a spy for the Allies, despite her tender years. Maddie, whose natural aptitude for flying earned her a spot in the air, is both her best friend and her pilot on a dangerous mission. But when the plane crashes and Verity is taken prisoner by the Gestapo, both the mission and the friendship are put to the ultimate tests of interrogation and torture. War stories don’t normally do much for me, but Wein spins a layered, gripping narrative that kept me up late to finish this book in one gulp. And surprise: it’s for teens, though grown-ups will definitely enjoy it as well.
March: Yoga Bitch / Suzanne Morrison. This hilarious memoir mostly takes place during Morrison’s extended yoga retreat in Bali, a trip she took because she wanted to be more spiritual and peaceful like her teacher, Indra. Instead of inner peace, however, Morrison found all of the hang-ups and emotional problems she thought she’d left behind in Seattle right there on the mat waiting for her. Oh, and everybody else at the retreat keeps trying to convince her to drink pee (wait, what?). Let go of everything you think you know about yoga and laugh like hell as Morrison Figures It All Out (Sort Of).
April: Life After Life / Kate Atkinson. I know, I know: everybody loves this book and can’t stop talking about it. There are reasons for that, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right book for you. I tend to describe it to people as a mash-up between Downton Abbey and Doctor Who, and if you’re willing to go along with the premise that a person can live the same life over again until she gets it right (whatever that means), then you are going to eat this up like a jar of Nutella. Otherwise, you can move along. I loved this book so much I went out and bought it; it is the most perfect thing I’ve read all year.
May: The Woman Upstairs / Claire Messud. Nora Eldridge is furious, and when you finally find out why, mere pages away from the end of the novel, your jaw will drop. However, to really appreciate the big reveal, you have to wend your way through Nora’s long, tortured story. Over forty and frustrated with her life–she wanted to be an artist and ended up as an art teacher instead–Nora struggles to recapture her lost dreams and not give in to self-pity, but it’s hard. A new friendship with Sirena, a practicing artist, appears at first to be the kind of boost Nora’s been looking for. However, as Nora comes to know Sirena and her family more closely, the green-eyed monster keeps rearing its ugly head. A powerful novel about learning to live for yourself, and not through other people. And the reveal really is worth it, I promise. Wow.
June: The Humanity Project / Jean Thompson. The Great Recession didn’t do anyone any favors, but for the characters in Thompson’s small California town, the situation is pretty dire. A man and his son are on the brink of losing their home. A troubled teen who survived a school shooting is meeting her father for the first time. A clinic nurse grows more cynical by the day as the noble ideals she tries to uphold seem like so much baloney in the face of non-stop human suffering. And then, a wealthy widow proposes a project that will change their lives in ways they don’t expect, possibly for the better…depending on how you define better. Readers who like realistic fiction will appreciate the snipped-from-the-headlines, they-could-be-us quality of Thompson’s characters, who quietly learn that the money they crave can fix their surface issues, but not what lies beneath.
Some runners-up worth noting:
The Next Time You See Me / Holly Goddard Jones. A tough-talking, blue-collar broad goes missing, and nobody in town really cares, except her married-into-the-middle-class sister. Also, middle school kids treat each other like crap.
The Dinner / Herman Koch. The most uncomfortable family dinner ever, held at a pricey restaurant in Amsterdam, reveals just how far one set of parents will go to protect their son.
Calling Me Home / Julie Kliber. An elderly woman asks her hairdresser to drive her from Texas to Ohio for a funeral. Warning: the ending is a weeper.
The Fault In Our Stars / John Green. There are not enough tissues in the whole world to wipe away the tears you will shed for two bright, sarcastic teens with cancer who, despite their odds, fall in love anyway. Read it regardless.
Your turn: which books really rocked your world in 2013? Is it too early for you to pick a favorite?