My Top Eleven Books of 2016

 

Last year was the best reading year, numbers wise, that I’ve had in quite a while. I read 66 books (6 over my goal) and am pretty content with the mix of contemporary novels and classic novels that I completed. A lot of my reading was generated by the two “book buzz” presentations that I gave at my library, one in the summer and one in the fall, where I presented 10 buzzy books of those seasons. I’ve not chosen very many of those books, however, as favorites for the year. Most of them were really good and very enjoyable, but not memorable. Classics and books by favorite contemporary authors (like Hilary Mantel) will still always be my favorites.  I was originally only going to have 10 books on my list, but I finished Terms and Conditions by Ysenda Maxtone Graham at the end of December and had to add it to my favorites – it is a little gem. Also, I intended to publish this post around the end of the year, but I had some pesky health issues going on and everything (reading included) fell by the wayside so I am only now sharing my favorites.

Here are my Top Eleven Books of the Year:

Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman – I really enjoyed this well-written, novelistic biography of the quietly passionate author. It is very detailed about her writing life and about the life of the entire Bronte family – definitely a must-read for Bronte fans.

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell – I listened to Cranford on my phone and I think it is the perfect classic to enjoy on audio – episodic, funny and heart-warming. It is one of the favorite books that we read in my book club this year.

The Fortnight in September by RC Sherriff – This beautiful novel about a family’s vacation to Bognor Regis was a highlight of my summer. It’s a book that’s not really dramatic or plot-driven – it quietly describes the relationships between parents and their children and the traditions of their yearly trip. Simple and lovely.

Giving Up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel – Mantel’s childhood is opaquely recounted in this dazzling memoir. I always find Mantel’s writing to say as much in what she doesn’t say then in her devastating observations. The combination is so chillingly good. I hope 2017 is the year her third Thomas Cromwell book is published!

LaRose by Louise Erdrich – LaRose is a marvelous book about redemption and justice set on a Native American reservation in North Dakota. Full of wonderful characters and really sensitive writing it moved me to tears several times and made me think so much about forgiveness. I just loved it.

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard – This is the first novel in the Cazalet Chronicles, the most perfect family saga series. I devoured this book and am now almost finished with the second in the series, Marking Time. I’m sure I will read the entire chronicles this year.

My Antonia by Willa Cather – My Antonia is another book club book and one that I’ve read before. I also listened to this on my phone and appreciated how beautiful Cather’s writing sounds spoken aloud. I find her books, especially this one, to be achingly nostalgic and gorgeous.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles – This short, adventurous novel is what I would call a “literary Western”. It has lovely writing, suspense, great dialogue, a journey, and a heart-warming relationship. I really enjoyed this and recommend it if you are looking for something gripping yet well written to break you out of a reading slump.

The Past by Tessa Hadley – I read this way back at the beginning of 2016 but it has stayed with me throughout the year. I find Hadley’s writing to be so lyrical and the story of a family deciding whether to sell their grandparents’ home or not is riveting. I hope to read more from Tessa Hadley.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith – Reading Swing Time was my first experience reading anything by Zadie Smith and I was stunned by her writing. It’s so vigorous, intelligent and perceptive. And also very moving. I loved this story of two friends and the different paths they take from their childhood on a housing estate in North London.

Terms and Conditions: Life in Girls’ Boarding Schools, 1939-1979 by Ysenda Maxtone Graham – As I mentioned above, I think this is a gem. It is very funny, fascinating and really engrossing. I want to read more about girls’ boarding schools so I’d love if Maxtone Graham next wrote a book about finishing schools (as she mentions she might). I would be first in line for that book!

I hope you’re all having a great start to the new year!

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Favorites of 2014

It’s the last day of 2014 and time to share my favorite books of the year. Earlier this month I counted down my choices on Twitter for the #libfaves14 campaign. Every year librarians choose their favorite books using this hashtag and they are then compiled into a big, glorious list with the top choices highlighted. If you’re interested, here’s an article about the list with a link to all of the picks. My tweets are captured below with a little blurb about each book. These were my best of the best with one missing: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I read it after the choices were due, but it is near the top of my favorites this year. I really loved each of these titles and hope that I find more wonderful books like them in 2015.

Were any of these your favorites too?

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far This Year

toptentuesday

 

I’ve always enjoyed reading Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) posts on the blogs I follow, but I’ve never participated myself … until now! Yes, this is my very first Top Ten Tuesday post and I love the topic. As we approach the half-way point of 2014 I’ve been thinking a bit about what my favorite books of the year have been and this event has helped me to narrow it down. Since I decided to participate only last night (and I worked the night shift) I didn’t have much time to write the post so I have given each title three descriptors to give you an idea of why I loved them. I linked the books to my reviews if I wrote one or to the publisher’s page if I didn’t. One of the titles, Station Eleven, doesn’t pub until September, but I had to include it because it is outstanding – something to put on your fall TBR.  So, here goes:

 

 

 

1. High Rising by Angela Thirkell – Witty, silly and downright fun.

2. The Vacationers by Emma Straub – Humorous, family drama, with a beautiful Spanish setting.

3. The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen – Powerful, gorgeous writing, and challenging.

4. I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir – Frightening, gut wrenching,  and heart breaking.

5. Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey – Suspenseful, sad, and gripping.

6. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead – Sophisticated, set in the ballet world, and melancholy.

7. The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin – Romantic, sparkling, and Neo Victorian.

8. A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor – Gothic, funny, and dark.

9. The Shelf by Phyllis Rose – Companionable, passionate, for book-lovers.

10. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – Stunning, thought-provoking, dystopian.

 

 

What are your favorite books of the year (so far)?

The Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence

A few of the longlisted fiction titles for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence.
A few of the longlisted fiction titles for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence.

Have you heard of the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence? It is a fairly new award (started in 2012) for fiction and nonfiction that is given out every June by the American Library Association. The award is chosen by a group of library professionals. The committee’s chairman is Nancy Pearl, the only librarian who has her own action figure.

I haven’t heard much about this award and I’ve definitely not seen the buzz that more established awards get when their longlists are announced. I know that it will take a while for it to become established, but I am more interested in this award than many others because it is chosen by members of my profession. It also might not be of interest to those outside the US since most of the books on the list are by American authors (Anne Enright did win the first year, though).

Here is the link for this year’s longlist. I was happy to see that I have read four of the books on the fiction list – Life After Life, The Lowland, The Woman Upstairs, and The Goldfinch. I probably won’t read any more off the fiction list before the shortlist is announced in May, but I will try to read the winner for fiction (and perhaps nonfiction). The medals will be awarded at the annual American Library Association conference at the end of June (this year held in Las Vegas -wouldn’t it be fitting if The Goldfinch won?).

And something exciting for me – I know I’ve mentioned the LibraryReads list a few times. I’ve been voting every month and submitting short reviews for the list since it started in September and one of my reviews was chosen to appear on the April list! I nominated Family Life by Akhil Sharma, a wonderful book that is highly deserving of the honor. You can see the April list here.

Happy, Happy New Year

new year

Best wishes for the new year!

I was going to write a post yesterday on my best books of 2013, but the company who hosts my blog had a server outage and I couldn’t access my blog for the majority of the day and then…I became obsessed with a knitting project.  So, in lieu of doing a best books list this year I’ll share six books, three classics and three contemporary titles, that provided me with a superior reading experience in 2013 and that I highly recommend to you.

The classics: Angel by Elizabeth Taylor, The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford and Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.

The contemporaries: Fin & Lady by Cathleen Schine, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.

Here’s to lots of fabulous books and wonderful conversations in 2014!

My Top Five Books of the Year Through June (2013)

5 favorites

I’ve read lots of pleasant books this year, books that were well-written, compelling stories with believable characters. But I haven’t read many books that changed my world like I did last year. Nothing that is on the same level as Excellent Women, Death Comes for the Archbishop or The Song of Achilles. Therefore, I found it hard to choose my top five books of the year so far because everything I’ve read has been about on the same level of excellence – everything really good, but not earth shattering for me. So,after much thought and debate, I’ve chosen the following five as my favorites through June. A nice surprise is that I read two of them for my book club.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson“The writing in Life After Life is quite beautiful, the kind of writing that gets to your heart and  makes you think and ponder the purpose of life and the nature of human behavior. I really loved the setting and the time period (England and the early twentieth century) and was mesmerized by the scenes set during the London bombings during World War II. I worried about how Atkinson would finish the novel, but the ending is perfect and complete.”

The Innocents by Francesca Segal ” Francesca Segal has done a marvelous job of transforming Wharton’s tale into a 21st century story of duty vs. desire. The setting is brilliant and utterly fascinating and the characters are all complex and sympathetic.”

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett “I think Ann Patchett created a quiet masterpiece with State of Wonder. I enjoyed it, engaged with it and was emotionally affected by the story more than I have been by a novel in a while. Her writing is understated yet gorgeous and she doesn’t judge her characters – she tells their story and leaves the interpretation to the reader.”

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles “The two best things about this novel are the setting and Katey. Towles conjures the allure of the city with his vibrant descriptions of the buildings, the streets, the nightlife, the energy and bustle. Katey is described with the same enthusiasm. She is smart, funny, clever, sassy and self-reflective. It is a joy to watch her make her way in the world and discover who she wants to be and how she wants to live. She narrates the story and her voice is completely endearing and authentic.”

The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford“Jean Stafford is a vivid storyteller who shows an utter lack of sympathy for her characters that I found disconcerting, but refreshing. Their weakness and folly is harshly paraded before us yet I understood and liked them the better for it. The confusion, bitterness and yearning of adolescence is painfully depicted so that we can identify with Ralph and Molly though we may not want to be in the same room with them.”

These are my five favorites of the 30 books I read during the first half of the year. I can’t wait to discover my favorites of the second half of 2013.

What are your favorites books of 2013 (so far)? Do you have any exciting plans for the weekend?

My Favorite Books of 2012

end year collage

Here we are, nearly at the end of another year. It seems like yesterday that I was choosing my favorite books of 2011. I didn’t think I was going to do a year end post for 2012 because, to be honest, I just haven’t been interested in blogging lately. I’ve been waiting it out, hoping that my desire to blog would come roaring back. However, I realized that I just need to power through the ennui and continue posting even when I don’t feel like it. Compiling my list brought back great memories of my year in reading and reminded me how much I love the blogging community so I am happy that I decided to do it.

2012 turned out to be a wonderful reading year for me. I didn’t quite make my goal of reading 50 books this year (I am 3 short), but the books I did read were very memorable, enjoyable and enriching. I discovered Barbara Pym in 2012, and also Mary Stewart, Muriel Spark and Dorothy Whipple – four authors I truly love and hope to read more of in 2013.

Back in July I presented my top five books of the year through June. Here’s a re-cap of the first half of my list:

1. The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

2. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

3. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

4. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

5. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

And now….here is the second half of my 2012 favorite books list:

6. Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple – “This novel is quiet and unassuming. The writing isn’t fancy and there aren’t any impressive lyrical passages. It is solid, wonderfully solid, storytelling and a very real and believable tale about families.”

7. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – “This book is all about character. Historical events are the prism through which we see the decisions and motivations of each major player but they seem fuzzy, a backdrop to a study of human behavior.”

8. The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins – “The restrained beauty of Jenkins’s writing perfectly reflects the subtle unfolding of this surprising tale.”

9. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe – “This memoir is the beautiful story of Schwalbe’s relationship with his dying mother, Mary Anne, and how books draw them together during her final months on earth.”

10. A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym – “Pym’s typical understated humor sustains this charming story and it totally melted my heart.”

Honorable Mention:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Howards End by E.M. Forster

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart

Great books and great conversations!

I’m looking forward to 2013 and all the fantastic books that will cross my path and the opportunity to strengthen my friendships with all of you. Thank you for reading this year – here’s to a magnificent 2013 for all of us!