Happy, Happy New Year

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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)

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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?

Mini Thoughts on Major Books

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The following two books have already received lots of attention, publicity and accolades (or criticism) so I am just going to give my very brief thoughts on each title.

lifeafterlifeLife After Life by Kate Atkinson – Ursula Todd is born in the harsh winter of 1910 and thereafter experiences re-birth and a circular life cycle throughout her existence. The plot of this novel bends back on itself several times over as Ursula dies again and again and is taken back to the snowy day of her birth. Each time she begins her life again a different circumstance, decision, or the actions of someone in her life cause a unique outcome and, sometimes, the outcome can save the world from war. She doesn’t remember her past lives, but does have a small glimmer and inkling of things that have happened in the past and is able to make decisions that change her path based on that knowledge. 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.

leaninLean In by Sheryl Sandberg – Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, urges women in her bestselling book to lean in to their careers and banish internal barriers to leadership and success. She uses lots of academic research to back up her argument that women tend not to promote their own interests at work and gives some great advice for learning how to stand out in your profession and achieve the highest positions in industry and politics. She is speaking to a very limited audience here – women who have the education and opportunity to become industry leaders, who can afford quality childcare and have supportive husbands – but I still found value in her message. I may not agree with her views on gender roles and the importance of mothers in the day-to-day nurturing of children, but I do agree that the more female leaders and role models we have the better off we will be.

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