Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Top Five (or Six) Books of 2013

My Choice for the Most Worthy Reads of the Past Year

It seems that everyone is putting up their "best of 2013" lists right now. On the one hand I find this slightly premature. What if something amazingly noteworthy happens between now and midnight on the 31st of December? Won't we all feel a bit silly having missed including that in our yearly round-up? On the other hand, who am I to tilt at such long-standing windmills?

According to my Goodreads profile, I read 35 books during 2013. That may not seem like a whole lot to most of you. However, for someone who has a demanding full-time job (as well as a couple freelance editing gigs), is mildly dyslexic (and therefore reads slower than most people), and spends no small amount of time writing, publishing and promoting my book reviews, I think that's a pretty good number. What's more, there are two more books I'm half way through already, and will probably finish at least one of them (if not both) before they play the last chords of "Auld Lang Syne." All of these books were published over the past year, so I feel reasonably assured that I can be considered an amateur authority on the subject. Finally, since it isn't likely that I'm going to find the next Pulitzer Prize for Literature before the year ends, here goes my 2013 countdown …

5. Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

Despite William Bellman's humble beginnings, his intelligence, hard work and business acumen made a success out of everything he touches. However, much like the rooks that dance in the skies, death was always swooping in and out of his life. This haunting tale is a truly compelling read and Setterfield is a very exciting talent. She has the ability to mold and shape a story together with her characters and settings that all blend in together to make one, complete vibrant picture. (This is available as an iBook or Audiobook from iTunes.)

4. Going Out in Style by Daniel Kelley

This is a delightful collection of stories, all of which focus on something ending, and each one looking at a different type of how things finish (including how sometimes, that can lead to a beginning). Kelley's talent makes each story fully rounded and complete, with believable, sympathetic characters we can identify with and plots that hold our interest. By using a common theme, there is also a cohesive feel to this collection, rather than just a bunch of stories thrown together.

3. The Universe Verses Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

When it comes to "coming of age" novels, the first one that comes to mind is always Catcher in the Rye. But that was written in the 1950s and one wonders if it isn't a bit out of touch with the times. Then along came Alex Woods, who could very well be the Holden Caulfield of the 21st Century. I would even be so bold as to say that perhaps this book should replace Catcher in the Rye in our schools as mandatory reading. It almost goes without saying that with this debut novel, Gavin Extence has shown himself to be an author we should all be on the lookout for. (This is available as an iBook or an Audiobook from iTunes.)

2. Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

It is March 1912 and David Graham is a University student in Urbana, Illinois. He's just read a book of poetry by Elspeth Dunn, who lives on Scotland's Isle of Skye. Impressed, he decides to write to her, and thereby begins a correspondence that will change both their lives. If you think epistolary novels are a hackneyed way to tell a story, you must have read the wrong ones. This is an unbelievably beautiful novel that spans two world wars, half a globe and thousands of letters. It was so engaging I literally couldn't put it down! (This is available as an iBook or an Audiobook from iTunes.)

1. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

We've all read books where the first thing we've wanted to do when we finished reading the last page was to start over again from the beginning. This is certainly one of those books; but it also isn't one of those books. While it is almost certain you will be enchanted by this novel, you might get the feeling that a second reading could change the way you were initially affected by the story. This is partially because you won't be the same person you were when you first started reading. It may also be because the story itself will be different - either for you, or that the story itself will change. This might not make a whole lot of sense - at least not until you've read this book, and read this book, you MUST! Oh, but don't just take my word for it; this book was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize for 2013. (This is available as an iBook or an Audiobook from iTunes.)

Of course, no self-respecting "best of" list comes without at least one honorable mention, and mine is Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb. It is very appropriate that Webb chose to include the quote "one is not born a woman; one becomes one" (Simone de Beauvoir) before she embarks on this amazing tale. In fact, Webb has embodied this throughout her story by putting the development of the woman behind the history at its very core. What's more, she does this with an elegance of prose that fits perfectly with both the time and the personality of her main character. From the very first paragraphs we are both swept up into the era and welcomed into her very heart, mind and soul. It didn't make this list because I could only give it four and a half stars out of five, but it still deserves note. (This is available as an iBook from iTunes.)

That's my list, and I hope that this inspires you to take a closer look and read at least one of my choices.

Almost all of these books are also available in print version from the Book Depository, or Nook format from Barnes & Nobel, or from an IndieBound store near you (links below).