Category: favorite books

My favorite reads of 2013

speakingWhenever a year ends and I look back at its days to see which books were my favorite of all those I read, I always get a teensy bit melancholy. Part of me finds it a bid sad that the books that were my favorite have been read. I can’t read them again for the first time. And sadder still? I probably won’t be able to read them again — ever — because of the other thing that makes me a bit blue on the look-back, and that is that the number of books is always less than what I had hoped for.  The mantra that there are too many books and too little time has never been more true than this stage of my life. The To-Be-Read pile at my bedside (which could double nicely as a ladder to the stars) is now becoming eclipsed by the invisible tower inside my Kindle.  I find it funny and pathetic that earlier this year I bought Orphan Train (yes, one of my other faves for 2013) read it, and then found the dang thing buried on my Kindle – from an earlier purchase in 2013. Sheesh. All that aside, 2013 was a great year for books. Here are my five favorites, in no order at all. It wasn’t easy to pick just five, by the way. I had to look at their covers — in color — and gauge how just the mere visual nudge made me feel inside. Here are the five that made me feel the pull of a magnet at just another glance at their covers…

cuttingCUTTING FOR STONE

Here was a book that had been sleeping on the TBR shelf all 2012. I finally pulled it out when it became my local book club’s pick. I remember thinking that I didn’t have time to read a nearly-700-page novel, especially in a squished time frame, and I nearly took that month off from my beloved book club. But Abraham Verghese’s masterpiece had me from the very first page. I simply had to know what would become of the likeable and utterly compelling narrator, Marion Stone. The prose was delicious and there were many lines that cut me to the core. Like this one: “Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted.” And this one: “The key to your happiness is to…own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. [Otherwise] you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”

 

bookthiefTHE BOOK THIEF

Here was another that had been on the AYEGTRI pile (Aren’t You Ever Going To Read It!?) I finally did just that after months and months and months of hearing how wonderful a book it was. What finally got me going was I began doing research for a World War II book I was writing.  This is quite likely one of the most cleverly constructed novels I’ve read in a long time (as was “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”) and I was completely taken by the devastating charm of the narrator. That’s all I will say. If you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for? And please, do yourself a favor and read the book before you go see the movie.

 

 

life after lifeLIFE AFTER LIFE

Speaking of research for World War II, this gem by Kate Atkinson had me spellbound from the first line. And interestingly enough, this was the only book in 2013 that I had read to me, in that I listened to this book on CD on a long car trip to the Sierras. Perhaps having a plethora of British voices speaking the story to me was what fully captivated me, but I am thinking even if I’d read the print version, I’d still be talking this book’s praises. The premise alone is brilliant, and the execution of that premise is stellar. Can you imagine what it would be like to keep living your life over and over and over again, and being only barely aware that you are doing so? What would you change? What would you run from or run to or run over? This was Time magazine’s number one choice for Book of the Year, and GoodReads Best of 2013 historical fiction award-winner. I would have to concur.

 

secretkeeperblog2THE SECRET KEEPER

Kate Morton is one of my tippy-top favorite novelists ever. I love her style, her voice, her care with words, her attention to detail, the skill of her story weave, and her appreciation for her readers. If you’ve read nothing by her before, can I just gently say, where the Dickens have you been? I loved this book, as I have loved everything she has written. It is also a World War II book, but it’s much more than that. If you like stories with overlapping time periods and special attention given to each of the main characters, you are in for a treat. After you read this one, get your hands on The Forgotten Garden, The House at Riverton and The Distant Hours.

 

 

AndtheAND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED

I’ve been a fan of Khaled Hosseini’s story-telling since he whisked me away with The Kite Runner. What I liked best about And The Mountains Echoed might be the very thing that others who’ve read him before didn’t like. And that was the lack of a singular main protagonist on an obvious chronological pursuit of happiness.  This story is different, it is more episodic, far less linear than his other two books, and because it was so masterfully done, I loved this aspect of this book. And quotable quotes? They abound in the pages. Like this one: “It’s a funny thing… but people mostly have it backward. They think they live by what they want. But really, what guides them is what they’re afraid of. What they don’t want.” And this one: “For courage, there must be something at stake.”  And this one: “They say, Find a purpose in your life and live it. But, sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind.”

So there you have it. My top 5! Were any of these in your top reads for 2013? What were your top 5? I’d love to know!

Favorite Books of 2011

I had two sad little moments as I mentally went back through the year to tally up the best books I’d read to list on my last post of 2011. The first sad moment? I hadn’t read that many. Ouch. Just typing that makes me wince. I read lots of pages for research in 2011. Thousands of pages, actually. But that’s “work” reading, and this traditional year-end Best Books Of is always about the books I’ve read for pleasure. (Note to self: In 2012, find more time to read for fun.)

The second sad moment? I was hard to please this year. I am sure it was me and not my favorite writers who had issues. I am usually dancing with joy while reading Geraldine Brooks and Kate Morton and Elizabeth Kostova. Cases in point: I loved Brooks’ People of the Book and Morton’s The Forgotten Garden and Kostova’s The Swan Thieves. But I – gasp -didn’t swoon over this year’s Caleb’s Crossing, or The Distant Hours, or The Historian. I languished. Fell asleep at the pages. Actually put The Historian down one-third the way in and picked up something else.

Sad, sad. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Something’s up, though, and I’m going to have to figure out what it is. In the meantime, here is the list of the books I really enjoyed in 2011, and that I highly recommend. 

For an intriguing example of how to grab a reader utilizing a unique point-of-view, I recommend Room by Emma Donoghue. It’s told from the vantage point of six-year-old Jack, a child born to a  young woman kept hidden in a vault-like room by the man who abducted her years before. “Room” is his world, it’s all he knows. He doesn’t know there is more outside the Room and that he is kept hidden from it. The story is, thankfully, not truly about what his mother has had to endure, but how she managed to love him, care for him and educate him in the prison that is her world, without him knowing it’s a prison. You have to suspend some believability when it comes to his language as a narrator. Overall, a fascinating read.
Catching Fire is Book Number Two in the Hunger Games Trilogy; a YA (that’s Young Adult) series that a whole bunch of people my age devoured for reasons I am not quite sure of. I guess intriguing lit is intriguing no matter your age or the age of the protagonist. Not for the squeamish, Catching Fire is set in a dystopic future where cultural mores have gone to Hades in a handbasket. The stakes are high and the appeal to our deepest held moral values is strong. I wish I could say the third book in this series was a fantastic finish. But Mockingjay was one of the books in 2011 that disappointed me. The ending was satisfying but all that stuff in the middle (as in, plot for the number 3 book) failed to impress me. 

For a much less graphic read than either Room or Catching Fire, I highly recommend Chris Fabry’s June Bug. It has the same headlines-kind-of-story about a missing child but without the CSI-SVU-pick-your-initials graphic material unsuitable for tender eyes and ears. From the book’s publisher-supplied description: “June Bug believed everything her daddy told her. That is, until she walked into Wal-Mart and saw her face on a list of missing children. The discovery begins a quest for the truth about her father, the mother he rarely speaks about, and ultimately herself. A modern interpretation of Les Miserables, the story follows a dilapidated RV rambling cross-country with June Bug and her father, a man running from a haunted past.” Great book. 


Crazy Love
by Francis Chan is one of two non-fiction reads that made my list this year – a new thing for me. I usually just list novels as the fave reads. I’ve known for a long time that the way God loves us is unconventional and intense and amazing and perplexing. And that we’re called to love him back the same way – and others, too.  Love is an action, a verb, a perspective, a responsibility, a privilege. We think we know what it is, because we feel it. But love is more than a feeling, right? From the book’s description: “Does something deep inside your heart long to break free from the status quo? Are you hungry for an authentic faith that addresses the problems of our world with tangible, even radical, solutions? God is calling you to a passionate love relationship with Himself. Because the answer to religious complacency isn’t working harder at a list of do’s and don’ts—it’s falling in love with God. And once you encounter His love, as Francis Chan describes it, you will never be the same. Because when you’re wildly in love with someone, it changes everything.” Cool book.

Perhaps my favorite book – out of all the books I read this year – is Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. It’s the most poetically packaged non-fiction book I think I’ve ever read. So lyrically written, I couldn’t race through the pages; I had to read them slowly, sipping them like a glass of fine sherry. And it wasn’t just the beauty of Ann’s prose that wooed me, but the audacious concept of training my heart and mind to be thankful for a thousand little things. Gratitude is an attitude, but it’s more than that. It’s a lifestyle that, like love, changes everything. When you start to list all the little things you are thankful for, like thumbs and red-throated hummingbirds and warm socks and orange marmalade and misty mornings, you start to rewire your brain to be content with everything you already have – and everything you don’t. A powerful, powerful read. Highly recommend. And do not read it in a hurry. Think glass of sherry, not cup of Tang.

So there you have it. My list of the best of 2011. Here’s to a fine 2012, with many hours of pleasurable reading at its threshold. See you there…

My favorite novels of 2010

Within hours the old year will be behind me and a new year of TMBTLT (Too Many Books Too Little Time) will commence! I never seem to have the time to read all the novels I want to read in the twelve months that we are given each year. My To Be Read stack is as high as ever, as tall as my nightstand and easily could double as one. But I read some great novels in 2010 – many – and as is my custom, I will close out the year with my top five.

I really, really enjoyed Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution – for lots of reasons. First, it’s about two young women in two time periods. One in the current day and one in the tumultuous days leading up to the French Revolution. Donnelly did what I love to do – she wove a historical thread into a contemporary story and made the two tales dance together. The interesting thing is this book is Young Adult fiction. Yep, Y.A. Which means if you go looking for it in your favorite bookstore, that’s where you will find it, in the young adult section. I enjoyed it so much it makes me wonder if I could possibly write YA sometime. The notion intrigues me. I think I might noodle that around a bit. This one’s a hardback and a keeper.
It won’t come as much as a surprise then when I say I equally enjoyed Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games – another YA novel and a runaway bestseller. I am a little behind on this very clever and emotionally engaging trilogy of a dystopic world and young woman caught in the coils of a world like the one we know but again not at all like it. The Hunger Games is the first of three, so I am behind. The third, Mockingjay, came out just a few months ago. I will be looking to read it and of course the second one, Catching Fire, in the new year. You know, I think I like YA . . .

My book club’s pick for January is Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and I just finished it today and was sad to be done with it. Jamie Ford tells the story of a Chinese
American teen in love with a Japanese American girl in Seattle, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Much to like here. A lovely, haunting story, one that you can imagine could actually have happened and maybe did. . .

I blogged earlier in the year about Elizabeth Kostova’s The Swan Thieves. So well written, dark and gothic and a little deep at times, but oh, the characters. I love her style.
And Lisa Samson’s
Resurrection In May was everything I love about Lisa’s storytelling prowess. I love her stuff, I always have. I am so glad she and I have become good friends. I like to think her gifts rub off on you when you are near her.

So those are my five faves. I am anxious for the year to start so I can infuse it with great novels! First on my list for 2011 is Ken Follett’s newest, Fall of Giants.
How about you? What’s on the top of your list for 2011?
The happiest of New Years to you all!

The Help

One of the themes I pondered in The Shape of Mercy is the ease with which we are able to make value judgments on people based on little more than group-think.

I find it disconcerting that it is part of our nature – a part of our nature we must tame – to assess someone’s worth based on our own criteria as we were in a place to judge at all.

Literature is one of the ways we tutor ourselves to not only face this weakness but ruthlessly hone the skill to see everyone as loved of God and therefore of incalculable worth.

Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel, The Help, is as richly drawn a piece of literary fiction as you can find on this theme. The book centers on the lives of three women – a young, white journalist and two African-American maids (the “help”). The setting is Jackson, Mississippi, in the height of the Civil Rights movement.

Here’s part of the teaser copy: “Twenty-two year old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962 Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy until she has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman who is raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her since the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business. but she can’t mind her tongue so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own. . .”

I had the pleasure of hearing Ms. Stockett speak at Warwick’s Books several months ago about how her childhood prepared her to write this book. It is exquisitely written, impeccable in its prose and authentic to a T.

One of the challenges of being a novelist is crafting for each of your characters a voice that is their own. It is a labor to give each one a uniqueness such that the author becomes invisible and all you hear is the character – this person who only exists in the fictive world the author has made you believe is real. Ms. Stockett excels at this. The voices of Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny are distinct and engaging.

This is one of those books that leave you with the impression that you’ve made new friends who matter to you. Turning the last page is not entirely satisfying even though you loved the ending.
You didn’t want their story to end. . .

I can’t believe I am sharing this link with you. It decreases my chances of winning this contest and I really want to win!

But I absolutely loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – loved it – and I am so excited that Random House is sponsoring this drawing for a trip to the island of Guernsey, the setting for this amazing tale. It’s a book club’s dream trip.

If you haven’t read TGLAPPPS – please don’t let the tongue-twisting title dissuade you – you simply must. It is the most delightful adventure into the human heart. I have read a couple books recently on World War II, including Those Who Save Us (beautiful prose -achingly hard to read) and The Zookeeper’s Wife (amazing premise but failed to draw me in ) and I have to say, Guernsey is so tenderly and cleverly written you forget it’s a war story.
I love a book that takes risks. The authors of Guernsey turned convention on its head and told this story through correspondence – and only correspondence. It’s masterfully done and incredibly personal – aren’t most letters that way? It’s like a story told only with conversation, so you can imagine how every sentence needs to matter. Every sentence has to convey plot and conflict. Every sentence has to reveal character. Every sentence has to woo you like heart-tugging narrative should.

The story in a nutshell is this: In January of 1946, British columnist Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. An unlikely and amazingly deep friendship begins between Juliet and the members of this “book club” and the reader is transported to the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, and into the hearts of people who risk much for love.

Here is an excerpt from an interview with one of the authors, Annie Burrows: “I have received many, many letters from readers all over the world bemoaning the fact that the book comes to an end. ‘I wanted it to go on forever,’ they say. ‘I want to go to Guernsey and join a book club.’ ‘I want to be a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.’ And the answer is Yes. As long as we don’t get too caught up in the space-time continuum, the book does still go on, every time a reader talks about it with another reader. The membership of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society increases each time the book is read and enjoyed. The wonderful thing about books–and the thing that made them such a refuge for the islanders during the Occupation–is that they take you out of your time and place and transport you, not just into the world of the story, but into the world of your fellow-readers, who have stories of their own.’

I love that concept. That just sharing this book with you makes me a card-carrying member of the Society. And I don’t have to eat any Potato Peel Pie to join (I hear it’s not that great!)

Want to read an excerpt? Sure you do. Here you go.

I don’t usually win contests, but this book left me so full of hope, I am optimistically packing my bags. Anyone want to come with me?

Mary’s Daisy Chain

The moment I saw the cover for my dear friend Mary DeMuth’s new book, Daisy Chain, I was drawn. Mary’s keen talent for the art of story, her authentic voice, her passion for relevant prose – these were already known to me. The haunting cover clinched it. I knew I wanted to get my hands on that book. I was thrilled to get an advance review copy and I was, not suprisingly, carried away by her melodic flair for dramatic Southern fiction.

Mary doesn’t waste anything when she writes, and she takes in the world – in all its beauty and ugliness – to tell a story. She doesn’t back away from the hard truths, and I admire that. Most stories that touch your heart have to wound it a little first.

The story in nutshell is this: The abrupt disappearance of young Daisy Chance from a small Texas town in 1973 spins three lives out of control-Jed, whose guilt over not protecting his friend Daisy strangles him; Emory Chance, who blames her own choices for her daughter’s demise; and Ouisie Pepper, who is plagued by headaches while pierced by the shattered pieces of a family in crisis.In this first book in the Defiance, Texas Trilogy, fourteen-year-old Jed Pepper has a sickening secret: He’s convinced it’s his fault his best friend Daisy went missing. Jed’s pain sends him on a quest for answers to mysteries woven through the fabric of his own life and the lives of the families of Defiance, Texas. When he finally confronts the terrible truths he’s been denying all his life, Jed must choose between rebellion and love, anger and freedom. Here’s Mary in her own words:

Susan: Mary, Where did you get the idea for the book?
Mary: I had a friend who shared a difficult story with me. He grew up in a Christian home. His father was in leadership in the Christian community. From the outside, all looked perfect. But behind closed doors, life was very, very hard. I wanted to expose that kind of abuse. That’s why the idea of family secrets plays heavily into all three books of the Defiance, Texas trilogy.
Susan : What themes have you woven into the fabric of the story?
Mary: The importance (and elusiveness) of authenticity.The devastation of maintaining and keeping family secrets.Redemption comes from surprising people.Feeling guilty doesn’t always equal reality. True friendship involves sacrifice.

Susan: So, how do you research a book like this?
Mary: Having lived in East Texas for two years, I absorbed a lot of the geography and colloquialisms of the area. A lot of my research happened as I wrote. I also researched battered wives and police procedure (Thanks, Officer Woodruff).

Susan: Is there a character in Daisy Chain that you relate to the most?
Mary: In high school, I was a lot like Hixon, living on the margins of life in some ways because I was so flat-out in love with Jesus. I wanted to share Him everywhere, and my speech was peppered with Jesusisms. But like Hixon, I also had another side to me, one I hid. Learning to be honest with myself and others about my own shortcomings—and, oh, they are aplenty—has made me a better Christ-follower in the long run. It’s not about appearing holy. It’s about being holy from the inside out. The only route to that kind of abundance is honest, excruciating disclosure with trusted friends and the God who sees it all.

Susan: What do you hope to accomplish with this book?
Mary: I liken this book to an Oprah book, but with hope. Yes, there is darkness and meanness abounding in this world, but God’s light has a way of fully penetrating that darkness. I hope Daisy Chain cradles the reader through its deep, scary journey clear through to the end because redemption will shine brighter in the midst of darkness. That’s my own personal testimony, so it can’t help but leak out on the page. My hope is that folks will see the need to share their family secrets in order to be set free. I also want people to see that the Body of Christ is probably much different looking than they first thought. Some appear holy. Others, in distressing disguises, actually are.

Susan: Thanks, Mary!

You can view a wonderfully composed booktrailer for Daisy Chain right here. And Mary has crafted a Family Secrets blog that dovetails with the themes in Daisy Chain. Sometimes people just need an anonymous place to release ugliness from the past that fell upon them in the place that should have been a haven; home. Check it out here.

A deep lake

I don’t know how I managed to get through high school without reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I blush even to write such a thing. I read other classics: Brave New World, A Farewell to Arms, The Grapes of Wrath, The Bell Jar, A Separate Peace, but not the Mockingbird.

I’ve had many opportunities since high school to read it, of course. No good reason for not having done so, and it’s funny because I’ve always wanted to read it. Watching Gregory Peck become Atticus Finch’s flesh and bone on screen is not the same thing.

I am proud to say the deed is done. I finished it last night, sated, intrigued and wondering. It was different than I expected. I had always thought this was a book about a white lawyer who defends an innocent black man in the pre-civil-rights South. It’s actually about a young girl watching her father practice law in the pre-civil-rights South. It’s a story about a girl who watches, wonders, interprets. And that is the persona of every writer I know, including me.

I told the members of my book club that this book is driven by its characters not its plot and that the story thread is subtle. It is more like a deep lake than a moving river. Both are wet, both can be big and imposing. One is quiet and still, though, while the other is all about its destination.

Most people know To Kill a Mockingbird, which took the Pulitzer Prize for fiction the year I was born, is Harper Lee’s only published novel. Here are a few other things I learned in recent days about her. Lee’s first name is Nelle. Her grade school playmate was Truman Capote. She spent a year at Oxford University. She worked briefly as an airline reservations clerk.

And while she granted few interviews, she had some amazing things to say about writing. Here are some gems attributed to this remarkable author:

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” Love that.

“I think the thing that I most deplore about American writing, and especially in the American theatre, is a lack of craftsmanship. It comes right down to this-the lack of absolute love for language, the lack of sitting down and working a good idea into a gem of an idea. It takes time and patience and effort to turn out a work of art, and few people seem willing to go all the way.”

“There’s no substitute for the love of language, for the beauty of an English sentence. There’s no substitute for struggling, if a struggle is needed, to make an English sentence as beautiful as it should be.”

And this one is my favorite because I totally get this. I close with it and wish you all a safe and peaceful weekend:

“I never wrote with an idea of publishing anything, of course, until I began working on Mockingbird. I think that what went before may have been a rather subconscious form of learning how to write, of training myself. You see, more than a simple matter of putting down words, writing is a process of self-discipline you must learn before you can call yourself a writer. There are people who write, but I think they’re quite different from people who must write.”

Sitting on the bedside table

Another year has begun, another 365 days at my disposal in which to read good books. My To Be Read stack is dangerously high – there are still books there from 2006 and 2007 begging to be elevated to the top after months of forced captivity with the dust bunnies.

But I list here just the handful that I am most looking forward to diving into in 2009, starting with the top three. Can’t wait. . .

When I told someone recently that I had Same Kind of Different as Me sandwiched in the middle of my towering TBR stack, this person enthusiastically insisted I move it right to the top, it’s that good, he said. The subtitle sheds some light on the concept behind this book: Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together. The story is told in two alternating viewpoints, that of a wealthy international art dealer who travels the world and the other, a homeless man who grew up in Louisiana, living a life that wasn’t altogether different from the lives of slave ancestors. One reader-reviewer said: “Each man teaches the other about life and faith. . . [They] offer a glimpse into two worlds that are nearly opposite and shows what happens when these worlds come into contact with each other.” It’s gotten oodles of five-star reviews on Amazon.

Just under Same Kind of Different as Me is The ZooKeeper’s Wife. Research for my Fall 09 book took me mentally to the Warsaw Ghetto and tales of courage I had not heard before, so when I saw this book at Borders it literally called out to me.

In this book, Diane Ackerman presents “the remarkable WWII story of Jan Zabinski, the director of the Warsaw Zoo, and his wife, Antonina, who, with courage and coolheaded ingenuity, sheltered 300 Jews as well as Polish resisters in their villa and in animal cages and sheds. Using Antonina’s diaries, other contemporary sources and her own research in Poland, Ackerman takes us into the Warsaw ghetto and the 1943 Jewish uprising and also describes the Poles’ revolt against the Nazi occupiers in 1944.” (Publishers Weekly) Stories of the Nazi nightmare in WWII are without fail unspeakably hard to read, but the depth of honor and courage evidenced by those who stood against that kind of evil has always amazed me and probably always will.


My friend Tosca Lee’s Havah has garnered wonderful reviews and everyone I know who has read it has been wowed by this fictionalized tale of Eve. You know, the Garden of Eden Eve. Says Publishers Weekly: “From having known only blissful innocence, [Havah] must struggle through every post-Garden moment. Frustration compounds her plight as she repeatedly attempts to regain her former idyllic existence and repeatedly fails. Havah’s life becomes a fight for survival once she and Adam are cast from the Garden, and Lee’s poetic prose beautifully depicts the couple’s slow surrender to a world tending to destruction. Havah gives birth, raises a brood of children, watches one son kill another, observes disease and death. Yet all the while, she waits for the fulfillment of “the One” (God) who will bring reconciliation and redemption through her seed. Lee’s superior storytelling will have readers weeping for all that Havah forfeited by a single damning choice.”

Also at the near tippy top of my TBR stack: The Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Pie Society, The Heretic’s Daughter, The Lace Reader, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Pillars of the Earth and Anna Karenina.

So many books, so little time! What’s on your TBR stack??

My own Book of the Year

When I think back to all the wonderful books I read in ’08, it’s not an easy job to pick the one I loved most. Even now, as I paste in the link for The Art of Racing in The Rain , I ache a little that there is only room at the top for one Book of the Year.

Other books this year moved me, challenged me, entertained me, inspired me, but this was the one that still lingers, months after I’ve read it. I believe this is true for a couple of reasons.

1. The author had an amazingly fresh approach – this book is told from a dog’s point of view – not a yellow Lab actually, but that’s what you see on the cover. That’s what you see when the book is resting closed on your nightstand, waiting for you to return to it. And this particular dog is all that you’d expect from a breed as wise and loyal as Labradors. Enzo is genteel and smart – he’s intuitive, he’s loyal, he’s fallable. And he’s the one narrating the story of the humans who give his life meaning and definition. It’s an amazing concept.

2. I have a yellow Lab.

3. I love yellow Labs.

I know dogs can’t talk, they can’t narrate stories, and they can’t tell Dad that Timmy has fallen into the well. And I also don’t believe in reincarnation, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love this book. It was masterfully written.

And when I mentally list the books that I read in 2008, this is the one that comes to mind first. That tells you something.

There were many others titles vying for second place on my list of most intriguing reads for 2008. Broken Angel by my good friend Sigmund Brouwer was powerfully written. Publishers Weekly called this work of speculative fiction “addictively readable” and I agree, even though a book set in a dystopic future is not a light read. Likewise, Those Who Save Us made me weep and writhe. Any book set in Nazi Germany usually does that to me. It’s hard for me to recommend it because of the subject matter, but it was a moving book that left an indelible impression on me.

I also enjoyed A Constant Heart by Siri Mitchell and Whispers of the Bayou by Mindy Starns Clark – expertly-researched books by two wonderful friends. Lastly, My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay, her debut novel by the way, was a terrific read.

I should also mention that in 2008 I read Twilight and The Shack. The first kept me spellbound – it was a veritable page-turner. Anytime you take a old, scary legend like that of the vampire and twist it into something new and untried and romantic, there is delicious tension. I’m not saying it’s Pulitzer material, it’s simply a good page turner. Gotta admire that about it. If you look at Twilight too closely you will see that The Safe Girl loves the Dangerous Boy for one, sole over-arching reason: he’s beautiful. Not the deepest of reasons for loving someone.

The second, The Shack, wasn’t a page-turner for me. It was interesting read, an intriguing read, but with all the hype surrounding it, my expectations were arguably very high. Too high. I was underwhelmed. There were some tasty nuggets there but its notoriety primed me for a theological feast and I left the table rather unsatisfied.

What were your top reads for 2008? I’d love to hear what kept you turning pages this year.
On Friday, I will share what tops my To Be Read stack for 2009

So many books. . .

Just a few more reading days remain in 2007 and as I had suspected, I didn’t read nearly as many titles as I wanted to this year. The miserable maxim “So many books, so little time,” is a nasty six-word nugget of truth.

There are, indeed, many books left on my TBR stack.

But enough moaning and groaning about the poverty of reading hours left to us after a busy day. I read some great books in 2007. I will list my faves for the Edglings and for posterity, with a special (drum roll) spotlight on my favorite book of 2007 on Monday. Off we go, in no particular order (I am not even entirely sure in which order I read them . . .)

1. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Piccoult: Trim away the bits of reality-defying details (and they are just bits) this was a great book about the bonds of familial love and how far we will let it take us.
2. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: The best part about this tale is its very satisfying ending.
3. When Madeline Was Young by Jane Hamilton: I’d waited years for Jane to write another book, ever since I read A Map of the World. I bought Madeline the day it was released in hardback, something I hardly ever do. It didn’t thrill me like Map did, but it was still artistry in words.
4. Memory Keepers Daughter by Kim Edwards: I bought it based on cover appeal alone. Even before I read the back cover copy I was ready to buy it. The little white infant dress on the cover, the icon of innocence, was the lure for me. It wasn’t my favorite book, just among my favorites. The ending was not near as satisfying at Water for Elephants, but the beginning was stellar.
5. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See: Not an easy read but expertly told. I felt pain in my toes as I read, that’s how real the depiction of foot-binding was. The interesting thing for me is, I didn’t like Lily the protag. She infuriated me big time. And yet I emotionally connected with her. I think it’s because with the first person narrative, it’s Lily who is telling the story and she is painfully transparent. She made horrible choices. And yet she told us about them anyway. Gotta have respect for that.
6. Feeling for Bones by Bethany Pierce: I didn’t read a ton of CBA literature this year (SMBSLT) but I found time to read this debut novel by Pierce. Beautiful writing, richly developed characters, no formulaic writing here. I will read more by this new writer.
7. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini: The bar was set pretty high for this second book by Hosseini. The Kite Runner was my favorite read of 2006. I liked this second book very much, but it doesn’t outfly the Kite. It’s good, maybe as good. Just not better. Still, one of my faves for 2007.
8. Peony in Love by Lisa See: Sad, sad, sad book. But completely original. Not another one in 2007 like it. Just don’t read it while sharp objects are nearby.
9. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls: Another very sad read. But somehow Walls made me smile. I don’t know how she did it. It wasn’t a humorous book, not by a long shot. But you won’t be driven to find sharp objects either. It was a riveting read.

So. There you have it. My top 9 for 2007. Come back on Monday and I’ll share with you my top read for 2007 and what awaits on my To Be Read stack for 2008.

See you then . . .