Best Books of 2013

I spent the vast majority of 2013 huddled up with my firstborn in that hazy, strained first year of parenthood. Prior to giving birth, I heard over and over that I wouldn’t have time to read (or knit, or love my dog, or basically be myself etc.) and I naively believed that advice. I believed that my normal life would be on hold and that I would be 100% engrossed in that first year. So I didn’t sign up for the Cannonball for 2013.

Then the baby was born. She was perfect, with all those fingers and toes and strange noises and that perfect baby smell. But under all the exhaustion and breastmilk, I was still me. And I had all sorts of time sitting down while she ate. I learned to knit while breastfeeding and rocked her to sleep using the sway of my arms as I moved the yarn over the needles. More often though, I read. I sat and fed her and I read book after book on my kindle.

Often, when I found myself completely in love with a book, I would dreamily draft up a review, though the words often left before I managed to even try and write them down. I even considered doing it (gasp) outside of the Cannonball. But I never did. It seems that I found ample time for all of my more introspective hobbies, but had a hard time pulling it together for the ones that made me face outwards.

Clearly, even though no one really reads them and this blog is largely for my own accountability, I’ve found that reviewing books is something I enjoy almost as much as I enjoy reading them. So, I’ve signed up for the 2014 half cannonball with hopes of completing at least that.

Now here I am, my 14 month old asleep in the other room and a month into my 2014 cannonball, reflecting on what I read back in 2013. It feels like I can’t start reviewing books for 2014 until I deal with all the emotions from last year’s books. So here it is… my favourite reads of 2013. And damn was it ever a good year.

It’s going to be a long post, so you might want to make yourself a cup of tea, or pour your whiskey before you start reading.

Read More

Books 32-34 of 2012 - The first three books of the Jessica Darling Series by Megan McCafferty

I have to admit, I am padding my cannonball with some shorter, quicker reads. And what better way to do that than to jump into some really pure, silly young adult fiction. The first three books of the Jessica Darling series are a coming of age story about a realistically portrayed young woman named Jessica Darling. There are no werewolves, no vampires, no evil corrupt government to overthrow. Just a girl, who is in high school, figuring some stuff out, often embarrassingly. And I loved it.

Jessica is imperfect. She wallows in self-pity, and clearly feels she is better than everyone around her. Her best friend has moved away due to a family tragedy and she is distraught as this is the only person she really felt worthy of her friendship. Jessica falls prey to the common teenage trope of being at once completely full of herself and afflicted with the kind of low self esteem that only someone who has recently been through puberty can possibly understand. Jessica is also funny, smart, and instantly loveable.

This book is a refreshing departure from much of the other young adult fiction I’ve been reading lately and a good reminder that you don’t need the paranormal to create an interesting story for this age group. I’d recommend the Jessica Darling series to anyone who enjoyed Bridget Jones’s Diary, or Judy Bloom.

Book 31 of 2012 - Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

image

I’m really torn about what to say about Ghostwritten. It was a gift from my oldest and best friend, a person who’s recommendations I take quite seriously. However, I went into this book with no idea what it was about, and I think that’s probably the best way to read it. In that vein, I won’t provide a plot synopsis here aside from saying that it strings together a series of people and events from around the world, slowly culminating in an unexpected connection with strange and far reaching philosophical consequences.

This is a strange novel, no doubt about it and certainly won’t be for everyone. It’s complicated and beautiful, but in moments it can drag on. Without knowing where the story is going, it can be a bit frustrating to try and piece things together. Each story has connections to the others, some obvious and some very subtle, and you don’t really know whether or not those connections are important until the end. I may read this again just to pull together all of the pieces.

What I loved about it is that when books have this sort of a structure and are marketed at a first world demographic, they seem to forget where the majority of people in the world live and what they look like. This book traverses the globe and you spend a lot of time in Asia, and with people of all sorts of colours, ages, and classes. My favourite story was about a Mongolian woman who maintained a lifetime friendship with a tree.

While I haven’t read it myself, I would recommend this book to anyone who liked the Cloud Atlas. If you like these books, I’d toss out another recommendation for the Painted Alphabet, a chronically underrated book about an Indonesian legend that, while structured differently and in a different time and place, has similar philosophical wanderings.

Book 30 of 2012 - How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Trooper

image

A few of the books I read in 2012 was recommended through my favourite gossip blog, Lainey Gossip. Judge away, but I have had some great luck with her recommendations. (I’ll also defend my love of good gossip to the grave - see my review of the awesome Furious Love). But I digress. This isn’t a book I would have otherwise selected and it was certainly better than I’d expected. This book is almost chick lit for men, but quite well-written and unexpectedly unconventional.

Doug’s older wife just passed away, leaving him with a teenage step-son and a life in suburbia at the age of 29. The book follows his fall into grief, and provides some insight into the bad behaviour and terrible thoughts that can fall into place after an unexpected death. It’s uncomfortable at times, but rings true. 

It’s an old story, but still an interesting one. The characters are well-drawn and while they’re hard to love, you will find things to like about them. I’d recommend this book to anyone who liked Bridget Jones’s Diary, or Friday Night Knitting Club.

Book 29 of 2012 - Escape by Barbara Delinsky

image

Escape, like Going in Circles, was another quick fun read that I needed to get me through a hump in my reading. The novel follows Emily Aulenbach, a New York lawyer married to another New York lawyer. Together, they’ve spend years climbing the corporate ladder. And one day, she snaps. She is unconnected to her husband, to her family, and slowly losing sight of the kind of professional and kind of person she once wanted to be. She throws away the blackberry and takes off to her college best friend’s town, which just happens to be the last known address of her former lover. What follows is the story of a career-obsessed person finding their roots and re-evaluating their life. This is a story you’ve heard before.

Read More

Book 28 of 2012 - Going in Circles by Pamela Ribbon

image

Going in Circles by Pamela Ribon appealed to me purely because it seemed like a light read about a sport I’m interested in trying. As anyone who has played soccer against me can attest, I like the idea of working through your issues with a combination of intense cardio, breathless competition, and knocking people bigger than me around. And that is exactly what Charlotte Goodman goes about doing.

Read More

Book 27 of 2012 - Deadhouse Gates by Stephen Erikson

Deadhouse Gates is the second book in Stevenson Erickson’s fantastic Malazan Book of the Fallen Series. This addition to the series picks up the stories of some familiar faces from the first books, introduces some new characters, and leaves behind others from the first book. It’s as exciting and well drawn as the first, and maintains the same level of action and intrigue.

Read More

Book 26 of 2012 - The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

image

I was so excited to read Anne Rice’s new novel, The Wolf Gift. Perhaps I’d built it up too much in my head, because while it was an alright read, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I really enjoyed the story, the Gothic structure and the mystery, but the characters left me wanting. I wasn’t as terrified as I was when reading The Witching Hour, or as charmed as I was through Interview with a Vampire.

Read More

Book 25 of 2102 - Insurgent by Veronica Roth

image

I feel like I just shotgunned this book. I started it this morning and just finished it and am feeling spent. I liked Insurgent for the same reasons I liked Divergent - it’s a tightly written series with characters that behave consistently, while still growing. It’s a great read and I can’t wait for the final book to come out.

Read More

Book 24 of 2012 - Guilty Pleasures by Lauren K Hamilton

image

I wasn’t really sure about starting this series and it took about half of the book for me to get into it. There were things that reminded me of Buffy, True Blood and even the Stephanie Plum series, but by the end of the book, I realized that Anita Blake is all her own. Of all the books I’ve read about vampires, which is more than I’d care to admit, Anne Rice aside, this is my favourite. The vampires are evil, the violence substantial, and the lead character capable.

Read More

Book 23 of 2012 - Divergent by Veronica Roth

image

After a good long break from young adult fiction, I gave into temptation and picked up a copy of Divergent by Veronica Roth. And am I ever glad I did. I know I’ve found a book I love when I feel the need to carry it around with me just in case I have to hold still for more than a few minutes and can crack it open. About two pages into Divergent, I was hooked, and after 2 days of reading every chance I got, I found myself wondering just how late the nearest bookstore is open so I could buy the second book.

Read More

Book 22 of 2012 - The Full Moon Bride by Shobhan Bantwal

Not all chick lit has pastel covers, just as not all books with pastel covers are chick lit. When I picked up The Full Moon Bride, I was expecting a more serious read, but was pleasantly surprised to find that not only does this book have nearly every quality of a good chick lit book (and I mean this in the best possible way), it also takes a more pragmatic approach to romance. Soorya isn’t looking for a boyfriend or a tryst, she’s not even looking for the oh-so-popular Carrie Bradshaw kind of dramatic love. She wants a life partner, and this is what made her a character I could respect and relate to. I realize this isn’t the popular version of love, and I’ve been profoundly lucky in this regard, but I believe that partnerships are what will get you to old age.

Read More

Book 21 of 2012 - The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

I really have no clever start for this. I picked up The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson because it was sitting on the “book club” shelf at Bolen Books. It’s great. You should read it. I will however, give you a bit of a warning. This is one of those stories that you read partially because you’re horrified by the family dynamic, and partially because you’ve developed a sort of reluctant affection for a few core characters. I had to dig deep to fall in love with the characters, but once I did, I wasn’t able to put the book down. 

Read More

Book 20 of 2012 - The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I suspected that this would be my kind of a book when I bought it, but I didn’t expect to be so enamored. It’s a charming story, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who either already loves coming of age stories or who needs to be convinced. I’d hesitate to call this young adult fiction, because this book is somewhat more mature and probably a better read when you’re looking back at adolescence than it is when you’re actually living it.

Read More

Book 19 of 2012 - State of Wonder by Ann Pratchett

This is why I read. I wish I could live at least 20 different lives. As corny as this sounds, reading means that I get to live all of these lives and more. If I could, one of them would definitely involve studying botany in the rainforest. So, between the jungle, the scientists, and the mystery, I was completely sold on the book after reading the cover and it paid off.

State of Wonder follows the story of Dr. Marina Singh, a doctor who does research for a major pharmaceutical company. The man who Singh shares an office with was sent to the Amazon to determine the status of a research mission deep in the jungle. When he is reported dead by the head researcher, his wife and Singh’s employer jointly pressure her into going into the Jungle to figure out what happened and where the research sits. She hesitatingly agrees, and leaves her comfortable American home to follow her dead friend into the jungle.

Read More