A lot of people I know had a pretty rough 2013, but mine kicked a lot of ass, I have to say. There were the big things, of course,–a new position at work, getting engaged, planning a wedding, and getting married–but plenty of tiny, wonderful moments as well. Finding the exact bias-cut red wool plaid skirt of my dreams for $2 at a North Fork thrift shop, figuring out how to make the best kale salad, getting my first full-size Christmas tree at home.
With everything else that was going on, for the first time in the last decade or so, I read less than a book a week. Still, there were a decent number of good ones and a handful of great ones, the kind that make me practically inarticulate with love when I try to explain why I like them so much (a coworker and I just stared at each other in rapturous incoherence the other day when I asked how she’d liked Fangirl; we just kept saying “it’s so goooooood,” at each other, over and over):
- Among Others, Jo Walton. Boarding school setting: check. Fairies with their own agendas: check. A misfit finding her tribe through a love of books: check. This book is, as Rob would say, very Stephanie-friendly, but I’d put off reading it for a few years because I was afraid it couldn’t live up to the fantastic reviews. Happily, it did.
- Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains, Catriona McPherson. I actually put off reading this for a long time too, but because I’d met the author at a party her publisher had a few years ago and had found her thoroughly charming. I prefer my mysteries dark rather than cozy and hated the idea of not liking the book as much as I’d liked the author. (I don’t know if other people who meet a lot of authors professionally have this hangup, but it’s exhausting.) I was relieved to find that the book is a delight in the vein of Christie and Sayers, and, even better, that there are seven more entries in the series.
- Where’d You Go Bernadette?, Maria Semple. This is an example of marketing and taglines doing a book a disservice. I had picked it up, read the plot summary (woman abandons family, heartbroken daughter goes looking for her), and dismissed it as Lifetime-movie pap. But people whose tastes I trust kept recommending it, and I ended up loving it. Bernadette is a singular, sharply drawn character–smart and frustrated and fascinating and funny.
- Awakening, S.J. Bolton. You know, I put off reading this one for a long time too–maybe that’s the trend of 2013: books I forced myself to read and ended up loving fiercely. I really love Bolton’s Lacey Flint series (the most recent entry, Lost, would have gotten its own entry on this list if this one hadn’t knocked me over the way it did), and often when I love an author’s ongoing series, I tend to not like her stand-alones as much or vice versa. It’s an older book about a wildlife vet with terrible scars on her face who gets reluctantly involved in investigating some murders where poisonous snakes are the weapons. It’s incredibly compelling and creepy–there was a point when I was in bed reading a scene in which the protagonist is exploring an abandoned (OR IS IT?!) house and actually had to put the book down and pick up a book of Simon Doonan essays because I was getting so freaked out. And all she was doing was walking around a house. That’s good writing. Side note: I think Lost is the first book she’ll be publishing using her first name instead of her initials. She wrote about making that change here.
- No One Else Can Have You, Kathleen Hale. This is a 2014 release, but I think it’s going to be available in the next week or so. A good friend in the YA publishing business called me up a month or so ago and told me that I had to read this book immediately and, moreover, that if I didn’t like it, we probably couldn’t be friends anymore. The last book she reacted that strongly to was The Hunger Games, so I found a copy at work, devoured it in a day or two, and have been urging it on people ever since. It’s a perfectly satisfactory mystery novel, but with a weird, super awkward protagonist who is just fantastic. The author writes about writing weird while avoiding manic pixie dream girl tropes here.
- Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park and Fangirl. These are both basically perfect books about being an outsider and making connections and moving outside your comfort zone that also address issues like poverty and being the child of someone with mental illness in a way that manages to be illuminating and nonsaccharine.
The happiest of New Year’s to all of you — here’s to an amazing 2014!