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!

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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?

The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford

mountain lion

“Ralph was ten and Molly was eight when they had scarlet fever.”

When I got home from Colorado I was seized with the desire to read about the American West. Traveling through that dramatic landscape just demanded it. As much as I love reading books set in England or among the privileged in the eastern U.S. I often feel guilty that I don’t read more books set in my own neck of the woods. I’ve never been a fan of westerns (books or films) so I didn’t want to read anything too traditional (although I did start reading my first Louis L’Amour novel – and I like it) so I picked up The Mountain Lion which partly takes place on a ranch in Colorado.

Set in the 1920’s this novel is an unsentimental and brutal coming-of-age story. Ralph and Molly, siblings who have always been strange and independent, struggle for understanding among their family and peers. While Ralph takes a more conventional route to acceptance, Molly maintains her unique and dark take on life and has a harder time especially as Ralph increasingly distances himself from his odd sister. When the pair moves to Colorado to live on a cattle ranch with their Uncle Claude the isolated and rough landscape only intensifies their mutual animosity. As they separately try to understand what it means to be grown up and how they can make the transition without becoming one of the adults they despise, Uncle Claude becomes obsessed with killing a mountain lion that they briefly glimpse in the mountains above the ranch. An astonishing ending to the hunt is also an end to Ralph and Molly’s childhood.

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. The darkness of the narrative never lets us grow too fond of these doomed teens.

I really enjoyed this book and I marveled that I know people exactly like Uncle Claude and the hands who work his ranch. I guess ranching people haven’t changed much in 80 years (and neither have teens). It was all very familiar to me while at the same time it felt so far away. I believe that it is a timeless American classic and that Jean Stafford is a remarkable writer. I will seek out more of her work in the future.

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