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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!

Scary Books to Last a Lifetime

25 Oct

October is such a good month to snuggle in with a creepy read. Unless you’re a scaredy cat like me. In that case, it’s a good month to ask the bravest reader you know for her list of favorite spooky reads. My friend Kate reads waaaaayyyyy more than me – she also reads a much wider range of things. Here are her suggestions if you’re in the mood for some scary reading.

 GHOST STORIES

Heart Shaped Box – Joe Hill – We are our own worst demons. Also, don’t buy and subsequently wear haunted suits. (side note: Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son)
NOS4A2 – Joe Hill – Creepy AF. Terrible villain who cuts through reality and has a haunted car that no one can escape from.
So Cold The River – Michael Koryta – Haven’t read in a long time, but I remember it being super good and scary. Mean ghosts!
The Cypress House – Michael Koryta – More creepy ghosts!
Ghost Story – Peter Straub – the scariest one I’ve ever read.
Dracula – Bram Stoker – Scarier than I remembered – kept me up at night!
Unquiet Grave – Sharyn McCrumb – Based on a folk tale or a true story where a new bride dies soon after marriage and her ghost wants to be avenged.
Meddling Kids – Edgar Cantero – this one was so weird but REALLY managed to scare me. Not sure why it’s YA.
Slade House – David Mitchell – Mean brother and sister messing with people’s minds! Not necessary to have read other David Mitchell but in the same universe as his other books.
Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales – Yoko Ogawa – Translated from Japanese – so good, so creepy.
The Hunger – Alma Katsu – Retelling of the Donner Party. Something is stalking the pioneers trying to reach California but everyone has their own haunted backstories, as well.
Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury – classic, scary.

 THRILLERS

Lying In Wait – Liz Nugent – good murder mystery! Best twist ever.
The Naturalist (series) – Andrew Mayne – super fun connect-the-dots, find-the-clues to track a killer series.
Black Fall (series) – Andrew Mayne – another highly enjoyable series by Andrew Mayne.
Ripper – Isabel Allende – There’s a killer in San Francisco and a kooky cast of characters is hunting for it (and being hunted)
Under The Harrow – Flynn Berry – Think ‘Girl On The Train,’ but better.
Perfume – Patrick Suskind – A classic, totally bizarre murderer whose entire existence is just wrong, but SUCH a great book.

 Ghost stories for Kids.

 

Isn’t that such an amazing list? Seriously. Thanks, Kate! I also asked my cousin and she had some good ones too. Helter Skelter and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark are true crime and I always finds those a little extra frightening.

The Thing About Clownfish…

21 Mar

Ok, guys. I hardly ever recommend gift books. In fact, I can’t think of one I’ve ever mentioned but I want to RAVE about this little gem of a thing from Maja Safstrom. It’s amazing. And everyone, everyone should buy one and put it on their tables or by their toilets or in their nurseries or guest rooms. It is full of AMAZING animal facts that will delight child and adult alike.

illustrated

The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts comes out on March 26th and is a small (maybe 6in by 6in) hardcover full of these perfect drawing accompanied by tidbits of information, 90% of which I’m sure you didn’t know. The only image of the inside I could find came from Maja’s Instagram account and is this:

FullSizeRender

Maybe you knew this, I didn’t! Here is my favorite tidbit. Maybe not favorite but one that surprised me the most: “All Clownfish are born male. When the female Clownfish in a group dies, the most dominant male will turn into a female to take her place.” Who knew? 5 very big stars.

 

NYT’s 2015 Top Ten and Book Club Miscellany

3 Dec

Tonight the New York Times released their top ten books of 2015. Kind of an interesting list with NO overlap to mine. You can see the list here.

One of the novels on the list is the 4th in a series by Elena Ferrante – and it just so happens that my book club is reading the first in the series, My Brilliant Friend, this month. I’m a little over halfway through it and loving it. It the best, most honest story of female friendship/competition that I’ve read in a long time.

my brilliant friend

Another of my book clubs is reading A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. It is sold as a trio of short stories, all based on his early childhood. Two are Christmas, one is Thanksgiving and they were fast and good and if you’re in the mood for a holiday-themed pick-me-up you should try this one.

christmas memory

My third book club, the one that meets sporadically and is just a big, bookseller book swap happened the other day and I got to borrow an advance copy of Emma Cline’s The Girls – a novel about Charles Manson’s female posse. This is a little before my time and I embarrassingly had to google the cult to see what was what, but the book has been getting TONS of advance praise. Just today, EW released an article that included a sneak peek of the final cover art. It’s up next after I finish My Brilliant Friend, but you should go ahead and put it on your TBR list now.

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Best Litpicks of 2013

17 Dec

I am shocked I didn’t have at least 10 books make my Best of 2013 list. Shocked!! My 2012 list was so good this year almost seems like a letdown (you can see the 2012 list here). But the 6 books that did make my list are pretty great.

LifeAfterLife1) This was far and away the best thing I’ve read lately. Not only is it brilliant and well-written, it is also supremely amazingly creative. Basically it’s the story of Ursula Todd (or rather the stories of her lives) growing up in WWI-ish England. Here is the brilliant part – at the end of each chapter, Ursula Todd dies (don’t worry, some of the chapters are 100 pages long). The first chapter, she dies at birth when the doctor gets stuck in a snow storm. In the second chapter, the doctor arrives well before the storm and we get to see Ursula’s early childhood. UNTIL an unfortunate accident cuts it short. In the third chapter, a small change is made that prevents the accident and we follow Ursula deeper into her life. I’m not able to do it justice, but luckily I’m not the only one with Life After Life on my list, so maybe you’ll read about it elsewhere.

hundred summers2). I am almost embarrassed to be putting such a fluffy novel on my list. But then I can convince myself that it was not entirely fluff – and truth be told I couldn’t put it down. I’d compare it to Rules of Civility but in a wealthy Cape setting. Anyone who loves good character driven novel  and doesn’t mind some good old girlfriend drama would love this. Sweet, innocent Lucy is entering her senior year at an all girls college. She is shy and awkward-ish and prim. Every summer that she can remember found her summering on the shores of Rhode Island (on a great big summer estate) with her childhood friend Budgie. Budgie is Lily’s roommate now in college, but where Lily is demure Budgie is brazen. She wears tight sweaters and is always running with some boy. Running fast. One weekend Budgie convinces her shy friend to drive up to Dartmouth to see her current beau play in the football game. During the game, Lily catches sight the tall handsome quarterback, Nick Greenwald. Lily and Nick fall in love immediately (in the first chapter!) and are all set to live happily ever after. Second chapter, 7 years later: Lily is back at her Rhode Island summer home, chasing after her 7-year-old sister when Budgie (brazenly!) shows up to open her long-emptied family home. Lily hasn’t set sights on Budgie in seven long years and is nervously anticipating an encounter. Even more nervously anticipating an encounter with Budgie’s husband, one Mr. Nick Greenwald. SHOCKING! But oh it is compulsively readable, and so easy to root for Lily.

133307673) This one is a bit of a cheat, as it came out towards the end of 2012. BUT, I hadn’t read it when I made my list last year and it is REALLY GREAT. I still think/worry/wonder about some of the characters in Joan Wickersham’s stories – I loved how she left every story with a couple of questions still floating around. Did they split up? Did he end up going on that trip? ARE THEY OK? Even if you have never ever read a short story, even if you never WANT to read a short story, you should read this. It’s masterful.

KimberlingSNAPPER4) I loved this little novel. It may technically be a novel of interconnected stories – but I myself am usually not a big short story person, so this one I think of as a novel. It is the story of Nathan Lochmueller; birdwatcher, romantic, unwitting rebel rouser. One of the more memorable episodes occurs when Nathan’s car breaks down just outside the town of Santa Claus. Waiting for repairs to be done, he sits in an empty-ish diner and helps the owners answer letters that kids have written to Santa Claus and sent to their same-name town. Everyone who comes in, from truck drivers to moms to children grab some from the enormous stack and send a reply. It was funny and sweet and perfectly delivered by Brian Kimberling.

deathofbeescoer5) I read this was back at the beginning of the year, and it would have maybe missed it’s shot at my Best-Of-list glory if it weren’t for Christina (thanks for reminding me!). Imagine Room if Room had a snarky-smart-foul-mouthed teen as a narrator instead of a sort of ferral-innocent-naive 4yr old. Two sisters live in a housing project in Scotland, their parents are broke and junkies and a little crazy, and Marnie (the elder sister) has pretty much been doing all the parenting/rearing of her younger sister, Nellie. At the start of the book, both parents are (mysteriously) dead, and the two girls are burying them in the backyard (hoping that if they can just make it until Marnie turns 16, she can claim responsibility for her younger sister Nell and the two won’t have to be thrown in the foster care system). It sounds like maybe a funny beginning, but it really is very not funny. Grim and grimy and dark. But one of those books that you can’t put down.

 

 

 

 

lowland6) This one makes the list mostly because I love all of her things. It was a little dark, and little sad, and I’m not quite sure I remember the ending, but I flew through it and still thought Jhumpa Lahiri was a fabulous author at the end of it.  Two brothers growing up in Calcutta are as thick as thieves. The older one, Subhash, is as dutiful a son as any parent could wish for. The younger, Udayan, is always up to something. But such a charmer that no matter what mischief he gets in, he is adored by all who know him. As they grow up, their paths diverge. Subhash travels to America to study, Udayan gets involved in the growing political unrest that threatens to divide their homeland. That’s all I want to say, but there is SO MUCH more to this story.

 

 

 

 

 

Father’s Day Dilemma

26 Jun

I have a fabulous father. Seriously, he is one of the best. Probably THE best. But I’m biased, I know.

For Father’s Day this year, I am giving him a current dictionary. He and my mom have started playing Scrabble every night, and my mom, apparently, has been trying to pass off made up words. The dictionary should help.

Here are the titles on my list to be considered – I haven’t read many of them because I far and away prefer fiction – and most of it is girly fiction.

1. Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson. This has been around for a long while, but has been the favorite book of almost every guy I know who reads.

2. Mission to Paris by Alan Furst. He is tremendous at WWII fiction – fast-paced and action-filled, he is always a big hit with both my dad and my grandfather.

3. Double Cross: The True Story of D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre. Upon closer inspection, this isn’t due to be released until the end of July. But he is one of my go-to narrative non-fiction guys and this should be GOOD.

4. Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French. I don’t know why exactly this appeals to me – my dad is not at all interested in Old China, but for some reason I think it would be an interesting section of history, sort of sliding in to all the other sections he likes.

5. This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust. This is an older one too, but one I think he might have missed. The woman who wrote it is the President of Harvard University, and it won a bunch of big-time prizes. My dad loves anything Civil War, and I think her’s is an interesting take.