I did a lot of reading last year, some of it was pretty wonderful, while some of it was pretty awful–but that is what I get as a book reviewer. It can be a very mixed bag. I have narrowed down the books that I read last year (70 in total) to my top ten favorites. For the most part I would recommend all of these books; some of them I would even be obnoxious about it. Sometimes I feel like I should at least strap my husband down until he reads some of these, but he is more of a technical reader: as in he loves to read about medical studies, new technologies, and boring things like economics and sociology. One can’t have it all, I suppose. I have divided the top ten into three categories: Throwbacks, Non-Fiction, and Fiction, so if you don’t see anything for you in the first couple of sections, feel free to scroll down.
This is a set of four books called the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Particia C. Wrede. I think I first read these books in middle school. They are very fast reads – I burned through all four of them in a week back in October/November. They are just pure silliness and fun. There are annoying princesses and good princesses, Dragons who are allergic to Wizards, and Wizards who are annoyingly persistent and evil. There are cats who act just like cats and magical swords that do not act like swords at all. These are a great way to indulge your inner child, especially since they are well written with wry humor.
This book was incredible. Persico distilled unimaginable amounts of information in to a comprehensive look at Nuremberg trials. I was astounded as I read it trying to imagine how he brought all of this information together. I am drawn to this period in history–as many others are and this helped satiate my need for information. Persico gives us information on the war, on how the Trail came about, how the jail system worked, how the prisoners were treated. This is by far the best non-fiction book I have read in a long time. The writing is substantial. I don’t think I could ask for more.
I am not sure I would recommend this book to everyone. It appealed to me because of the work that I do with Adventist Hospice, though I do think I would have found it interesting even without working for Hospice. This book walks us through the history of dying and how advances in medicine: hospitals, medicines, etc. changed how we approach dying. I think this would be a relevant book for anyone with older relatives as well as those who work in nursing homes or hospitals. If you want more information here is the link to the review I did for the Portland Book Review.
Initially I thought I should put these next books in ascending order of awesomeness, but I couldn’t wrap my head around a hierarchy. Each of these books are incredible (at least to me). I would recommend them all, without reservation, to anyone. That is not to say that they won’t appeal to everyone, because I know everyone has different tastes, and I can be incredibly biased when it comes to what I read. Take the following 7 books for instance: all of them have female protagonists. I obviously have discriminating tastes. The first book is my favorite of all of them, but the rest are all equal in my estimation. Three of the books on this list are by Louise Erdrich, whose work I have been having a love affair with as these blog posts attest to: Damn Good Writing, Day 19.
I couldn’t put this down. I felt like I was swimming deep under water, without needing to breath. The story intertwines the lives of the Master Butcher Fideles, his wife Eva, their four sons, and a young acrobat woman who has returned home with her lover who she passes off as her husband to gain respectability. Everything was so beautiful, poignant, and simple. It is a story of ordinary lives, in an ordinary world. That’s where the beauty lies and Erdrich knows this so well. Instead of writing towards large, world changing events, her writing conveys the power in the small things in life. I read the book months ago and I am still not over it.
This is a story about a drum, which begins when Faye discovers the painted drum abandoned in an attic of an estate she in appraising. The drum calls to her, and against all of her professional sensibilities she steals it. We then bounce back and forth through time as we catch glimpses of the lives the drum has touched, changed, and in some instances, ruined.
I am having a hard time remembering the plot of this book, but I think that only adds to it oddly enough. This book is so tangled; it is a jumble of lives, twisting together. It takes place up in North Dakota, on tribal lands. It is about the struggle for a dying culture and disappearing land. It is a book of power and sadness. There is evil and magic, as well as faith and painted drums. It is a book to be read late at night.
This so reminded me of Anne of Green Gables–it has a young girl as the protagonist and a very strong connection with nature for a start. I remember watching the Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe as a kid–the old one put out by WonderWorks with the human sized beavers. One of the previews on the VHS was for A Girl of the Limberlost. I finally got around to reading this book while I was on my honeymoon, and it was perfect. It is a simple, sweet book where you easily fall in love with the characters and everything turns out perfectly in the end. I recommend reading this book in the summer, on a warm summer afternoon. It won’t take much time, but the time it takes will be well spent. Unless, of course, Anne of Green Gables is way to girly for you and then I would suggest not reading this book.
Set mainly on a beautiful island in the Indian Ocean, this tells the story of Meterling who falls in love with an older English gentleman who falls down dead during their first dance at the wedding reception. Meterling is left, pregnant, to bear the disgrace. The writing is simple and beautiful, and we automatically love Meterling who must endure her broken heart and continue to live, surrounded by family in her families compound. As Sweet as Honey is the perfect title for this book. Here is the link to the review I did for the Portland Book Review.
Set in North Wales during the last couple of months during World War II, this book tells the tale of a small town barmaid. How whole life is wrapped up in her little village, yet she longs for a larger world. I wasn’t so sure about this book when I first started reading it, but then before I knew it I was hooked. Esther comes of age in a time where soldiers regularly tramped through her town and vied for her affections, where local eyes pry into every aspect of life, and the POW camp just over the hill proves too interesting to resist.
There is so much to this book, I don’t know where to begin. It takes place in two worlds: Germany during World War II with a young woman named Anna, and years later in Minnesota with Anna’s daughter Trudy. It is a story of love and loss, and what lengths we can be driven to for that love. Anna sacrifices everything for her infant daughter in Germany, and at the end of the war when she meets a young American soldier she escapes the horror of her past to marry him and move to America. From that point on she refuses to talk about her past, but it continues to color the relationships that she has with her husband and her daughter. Trudy is left to puzzle out her own murky beginnings, searching fruitlessly against the wall of her mother’s silence. This book was dark and twisty in the exact way I like books to be dark and twisty.
I hope everyone had a great reading year last year. Remember: the books we get to read in this lifetime are finite, so choose them wisely. I have started a new page for the books that I read in 2014, you can check that out here. If you had any books that knocked you off your feet, and made you wobbly at the knees last year, please feel free to share them. I am always on the prowl for my next great read. Good reading everyone!