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Top Ten Litpicks of 2018

8 Dec

My favorite time of year! Time for the Best Book lists. The New York Times released their top ten, so I figured it’s time to put mine out there too. This year brought me a third baby and a total of 66 books read. I’ll be the first to admit that I find myself looking for and enjoying books differently in this phase of my life. Things are looking a little lighter!

 

Here we go, mostly in order.

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing was probably my favorite this year. Of my friends who have read it, many have agreed and a few have found it a little too “fairytale” ish which could be true. However, it was just what I needed when I needed it. It’s the story of a young girl abandoned by her family in the marshes of the North Carolina coast and her life as she grows.
  2. Kind of unusual for me to have a memoir on my year-end list but Educated really was something else. You can’t make this stuff up, Tara Westover’s story is so crazy. After the first little bit I thought “this is crazy!” and then after the next little bit I thought “this is crazier than crazy!” and after the third, crazier still. If this was a novel critics would say it was completely unbelievable. Growing up with a doomsday-er father who didn’t believe in formal education or doctors or pain medication, Tara pretty much saved herself by seeking an education. So good.
  3. If you need a character you’ll love to hate, pick up Ladder to the Sky. Maurice Swift will stick with you for a long time – so incredibly terrible. Maurice has known since he was a young boy that he was destined to be a writer, and he will go to a lot of extremes to achieve that goal. There is a little bit of foul language and sex – especially in the first section – but if that doesn’t bother you wow what a compelling read this one turned out to be.
  4. I was hesitant to read My Sister, the Serial Killer mainly because I assumed it would be like the show Dexter (which I liked well enough until I didn’t). Such a pleasant surprise! Even the physical book is so much more appealing that I thought it would be – smaller and shorter than you’re usual novel. It’s the story of a woman who has a sister that somehow ends up killing a boyfriend. Maybe two. Could they prove the third was murder if they tried? It sounds ridiculous to type but when you’re reading it, it just feels so believable. Highly recommend.
  5. I really enjoyed Those Who Knew – it felt at times like a familiar politically driven novel but was also so engrossing that it felt totally different. On an unnamed island that has (a decade ago) overthrown the US-backed regime, Lena believes that the face of the resistance (her former boyfriend and current senator) may have played a part in the death of his attractive campaign aide. Told through a couple of different perspectives, timely and so good.
  6. If you love old black and white movies that feel light enough to have some humor but not so light as to be ridiculous (I’m thinking It Happened One Night or Bringing Up Baby) Dear Mrs Bird is a great one. An old film-style beach read maybe. Set in London during WWII, young Emmy Lake wants to do her part for the war effort and takes a job at the newspaper. She mistakenly ends up working for the paper’s “Dear Abby” equivalent and gets herself in a series of messes. My book club read this on my suggestion and of the 10, 8 really enjoyed it and 2 found it SO BORING. It’s a sweet one – so avoid it if you’re not in the mood.
  7. West by Carys Davies really surprised me. It’s short and ties up a littttttle too nicely but I still really enjoyed reading about Cy Bellman and his quest to find what his contemporaries Lewis and Clark must have missed. Part his story and part the story of his young daughter left at home.
  8. Another physically small and short novel (can you sense a trend?) so beautifully written is Tin Man about a man named Ellis and the two great loves of his life. I loved reading about Ellis and his childhood, the friendship between himself and Michael that over time became something more, and then the way that dynamic changed as he fell in love with and married the wonderful Annie. Tender – that’s the perfect word. The blurb on the cover says something like “heartwarming and also heartbreaking” and that’s apt too.
  9. Circe makes the list just because it’s an astounding work – personally I loved Song of Achilles more. Basically the imagined memoir of Circe, from her childhood to her time with Daedalus and Icarus straight through to Odysseus and beyond (hundreds and hundreds of years).
  10. Home Fire is last only because technically it came out last year and I hate to break my streak of 10 books from 2018. But. There you have it. It was definitely top five for me – the story of a Muslim family living in the UK. When the eldest, Isma, leaves to study in the United States she befriends the son of a polarizing UK politician, setting in motion a cascade of events that has serious repercussions for her family.

 

Here are some runners-up I also very much enjoyed:

 

 

AND I’ve read two books that have potential (already, I know it’s early) to be on my list for 2019:

Daisy Jones & the Six is really great about a fictional band from the ’70s (I thought Fleetwood Mac + the way I feel about Wilco + Penny Lane from Almost Famous). Interesting because it’s written as a transcribed documentary. Loved it. When All is Said – an Irish tear-jerker about an older man who is grieving for his wife. Sitting at the bar in his small town’s hotel, he reminisces on five people who had a huge impact on his life. Loved it. Put these both on your list!

Orange is the color of…

30 Oct

 

The end of the year always has me scrambling to make sure I have a solid Top Ten – I get to November and start to panic. This year its happening again! So I’ve been reading extra hard lately. These two I really liked! I’m not sure if they’ll make it on my end-of-the-year list or not, but they are good for what they are.

The Great Believers you might have read about – it’s short-listed for the National Book Award this year. It’s a novel in two connected storylines; Yale Tishman in the 80s in the middle of the AIDS epidemic in Chicago and his friend Fiona thirty years later trying to reconnect with her daughter (in Paris). This one felt important to read, there were parts of the story lines that I loved (Yale is trying to secure the donation of an art collection from the 1920s) and parts that I didn’t love so much (Fiona’s weird affair in Paris). All in all, it was good. 4 stars

I flew through A Light of Her Own this weekend and I really liked it but I can’t quite figure out why or how much. I know that sounds like a bad thing but it’s not, I promise. Set in the 1600s in the Netherlands about two women who would love to make their livelihood as painters. Pretty much unheard of. Based on the true story of Judith Leyster – the only woman to have been admitted to the Guild during that time period. Very interesting, lots of painting-related drama. None of the relationships felt very deep or passionate or…well…anything so I found myself wondering how I could care about them as I did. It also felt quickly paced with a detailed plot and definite climax but I was sort of confused when I got there. Overall, really enjoyed it but was expecting something more like Tulip Fever.  Maybe Carrie Callaghan will write another one with less of a plot and more dynamic character relationships – I’d read that one too! 4+ stars, out early November.

 

Rolling into Winter

20 Oct

I feel like I have been reading SO MUCH lately, but look. Only three since my last post! They all sucked me right in and I read them in such a flurry, maybe that’s why I feel so exhausted.

Washington Black is the story of a young slave, George Washington Black (called Wash) on a plantation in the Barbados. His master’s brother, “Titch,” notices that Wash is just the right size to aid in some scientific experiments he wishes to conduct and takes him on as an assistant. Titch is somethings of a wonder and teaches Wash to read and write and nourishes his previously unknown talent for drawing. We follow Wash on his journey from the plantation, into the free world. I love love loved the first third of this novel. And the remaining 2/3 were good enough to keep me going. 4 stars.

I love having friends at the bookstore because they’ll tell me what YA is getting all the buzz so I can just read the good stuff. Sadie is the good stuff. I loved the format of this young adult thriller – one part Sadie’s story and one part Serial-like podcast, scripted out. You can just HEAR Sarah Koenig’s voice in the podcast section, conducting interviews and phone calls but also narrating in the studio. This one is creepy, and has implications of sexual abuse so don’t go just throwing this one at any teen in your life. Sadie is missing, her neighbor/mother figure calls West McCray, a radio personality who takes on the case. We get Sadie’s story in real-time, and then West McCray’s story oh maybe 3 months behind. Sadie has set out to find the man she thinks is responsible for her younger sister’s murder, and things get scary. 4 stars.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is our neighborhood book club pick for November. If one of my best book store friends hadn’t loved it, I might have quit it towards the beginning but I’m glad I stuck with it, the payoff was huge. This book was so confusing. I was SO CONFUSED all the way up to the last 20%. Here is how I’d describe it and I am not even sure I’m close to what it is: Evelyn Hardcastle is going to die. Our narrator wakes up each day – the SAME day – for eight days. Each day he inhabits the body of a different guest at this giant manor on the day of a big party. If he can tell the Plague Doctor (??) who murders Evelyn before 11pm on any of those days, he will be free from the cycle. If not, he starts over, losing a bit of himself every time he awakes in a new body. Pretty confusing, but if that sounds at all interesting to you, get it because the ending was great. 4 stars.