Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Best Books I Read in 2013

I love a good excuse to have a book wrap-up! Let's bid adieu to 2013 bookish style!

Thank goodness for Goodreads because I used it all last year and everything I read is in one place. So many books I would have forgotten to talk about! You can follow me on Goodreads too if you so desire, because book stalking is a thing!

Lets get to it!

Best of the Best


I like to think I have some fairly high standards
when it comes to books that I would wholeheartedly recommend. They can't just be beautifully written but dead boring. They have to have a decent plot and if not likeable characters, at the very least interesting characters. Books that I really love usually have amazing writing. The kind of prose that breaks your heart with its deft turn of phrase and beautiful capturing of the English language. Books I love also usually speak to something deeper than the surface of the story it tells, usually in a surprising way. These are some books that I not only enjoyed but would recommend to anyone who appreciates good literature and a good story.

The Shoemaker's Wife - A tale of a lifetime of love between two immigrants to America. I enjoyed this book the more I read and think its a rare story that both tugs at the heartstrings but remains realistic.

The Language of Flowers - A beautiful telling of a mother's devotion and how motherhood effects us in surprising ways. Another beautiful story,

The Secret Keeper - I thought Kate Morton was chick-lit so I started reading her books in the last throes of pregnancy where all I could do was wallow on the couch. I was so pleasantly surprised by the well crafted writing and characters. This novel was my favourite.

A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion - Ron Hansen's latest work about a doomed love affair that turned violent in the 1920's. Hansen is simply an amazing writer. His writing remains firmly Catholic even when the content is far from overt Catholic themes. This novel deals with themes of sin, grace, and repentance and is worth the read.

Memento Mori - I love Muriel Spark. I find her quirky and interesting while at the same time being able to hit upon such deep truths. In a way she's a British Flannery O'Connor in that she approaches Catholic ideas through strange and unusual stories and characters. Momento Mori is another strange tale of strange people dealing with their own mortality. A story that stays with you.

Bel Canto - Ann Patchett successfully creates a parallel universe which completely envelopes the reader. She brings to life another world where relationships, language barriers, and love all intersect in what seem to be impossible ways.

Jayber Crow - I finally dove into Wendell Barry and his famous tale of a man's telling of life, community and the wisdom he finds living a simple life. I think this is a book that will come back to me in many ways. It is a beautifully written ode to what's really important. Very Chestertonian.

Non-Fiction Notes

I am all over the place when it comes to non-fiction. I love strange topics and discovering things I would never have known through non-fiction books. It's really because I'm a giant nerd. Do any of these strike your fancy?

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking - I found this book interesting because I enjoy learning about personality, but at the same time I couldn't help but feel as if this book preached a little too heavily on how amazing introverts are. I'm a ridiculously balanced person when it comes to introversion/extraversion so I didn't exactly relate to how great it is to be an introvert and what a cross it is to be an introvert in a world where people communicate with each other all the time. I feel the repurrcusions of this book have made everyone believe they're that very special introvert who needs to be catered to and appreciate for all their "special" abilities. Haha, now I just sound bitter. It really is quite the interesting book.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - This book blew my mind. I'm not too into scientific discoveries and would never have known what has gone on in the field of genetic research in the past century if I hadn't read this book. I found it completely engrossing. It put a personal face on medical technology and its myriad of implications, as well as proving the Church's important teaching on scientific studies completely right on.

The Complete Thinker: The Marvelous Mind of G.K. Chesterton - A wonderful introduction to the most important foundations of Chesterton's thinking and how it explains our world. Well written and easy to read.

My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir - Before I read this book I had this vague impression that it was going to be an overly sentimental and pious spiritual memoir that I would find boring and annoying. Thank goodness I was wrong in every way! A touching, relatable, and wonderfully told memoir of a modern woman encountering holy women in the Church.

Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon Self-Control, and My Other Experiments in Everyday Life - I didn't find this book completely revolutionary like many purport, but still really enjoyed it. I agree wholeheartedly with her thesis that home is the most important place in our lives and deserves time and attention to make us happier. Worth the read for sure.

A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy - I'm a huge British monarchy nerd and love a good royal biography like nobody's business! This book was a very interesting look at the relationship between Victoria and Albert and how his death helped create the Victoria of history.

Dad Is Fat - Absolutely hilarious and a treat to read! I was in tears in so many different parts and could have sworn he was writing about my life. Anyone with kids will relate, but anyone with more than 3 will be in stitches!

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child - A little long winded in sections, but overall a complete manifesto on how I want to raise my kids. It really opens your mind to how our world has changed the way children learn and how it has impacted our children's moral development and childhood.

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise - Ruth Reichl is an amazing food writer and this book was a pure pleasure to read. I loved being invited into her interesting tales of being a food critic.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary - An incredibly well-written tale of the strange way the Oxford English Dictionary came into existence. What's that? A book written about people writing a book sounds boring? Well, this will completely change your opinion of that genre!

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex - Because a tale of cannibalism is a great way to get perspective on a crappy day spent with toddlers! But really, an amazing story and a well-done history. I regaled stories from this book to my husband who thought I was making it all up.

Pope Awesome and Other Stories - I can't recommend this book enough. If you're looking for a book to encourage your own heart in faith and family, or to open the eyes of a friend I'd suggest this book every time. A well written tale of a modern woman finding faith and family in a world that tries its best to stifle both.

Books I Hated and Books I Thought Were Just Alright

Sometimes its just so much fun to complain about bad books amiright? Here's some that were atrocious that I somehow finished out of my compulsive must-finish-every-book-I-read disorder.

Gone Girl - I honestly don't understand how this book is such a raging bestseller, but I'm going to blame the general uneducated state of society today. This book was sloppily written, had the most unlikeable characters, and had a twist ending that anyone could see coming from about 12 miles away. I honestly shouldn't have finished it, and I'm still bitter I won't get those hours of my life back. Horrible!

Still Alice - This is a book that I didn't hate per say, but didn't live up to my expectations. A story detailing the heartbreak of alzheimer's disease, this book seemed to be building to being a great book but never quite made it there. I found the prose clunky and a little cold as well.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and The Paris Wife - I went on a bit of a kick where I could only read novels based on the lives of wives of famous writers from the 1920's. They were both decent, although I didn't love the books. The Paris Wife was the better written book which details the life of Ernest Hemingway's first wife Hadley, while Z tells the tragic life of Zelda Fitzgerald.

Austenland - I'm not a fan of fan fiction generally, and this proves me right yet again. I honestly thought this book was terrible. The movie might be entertaining as it tells of a young woman trying to understand love by going to a spa-come-Jane Austen re-enacting-theater of sorts.

The Night Circus - I'm still fairly angry that this book wasn't better edited. With some crafty editing, say chopping the book by a good 100 pages, this would have been a good fantasy. As it exists today its a best-selling disappointment. I plodded through the book hoping for an interesting resolution only to be tortured by chapter after chapter of crazy descriptions.

Someday, Someday, Maybe - This was a book I thought I was going to hate but was pleasantly surprised with. It's not high literature but for a chick-lit book written by an actress its surprisingly entertaining. A good easy and fun read!

Ok. I need to stop talking about books don't I? I think 2013 turned out to be a good year for reading, and I'm fairly happy I read so much even when I had a baby in that time period! I'm looking forward to hearing about your favourite books of 2013!

And if you're in the mood for more of my book opinions here's my Best Books of 2012 post.

Linking up with Haley's great book link-up!

And joining Modern Mrs Darcy with most Best Book links!

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  1. Great overview of books! I must make more time to read in 2014. I did read the "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" a few months ago and I really enjoyed it. My hubby is very, very introverted and it gave me some insight into his personality. I prefer to read non-fiction books and I think I will pick up the "Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child" next time I'm at Chapters. I'm a British monarchy nerd as well and the one you had on your list about Prince Albert and Queen Victoria looks interesting. Thanks for the overview. It will help me choose a good book to read so I don't waste time or money.

  2. Wow, great post! I'm so glad "The Shoemaker's Wife" made your list. I LOVED that book! And, as a Marquette grad, I happened on "My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir" a few months ago and bought it on impulse. Been distracted by the holidays, but need to get back to it. Jim Gaffigan's book was hilarious, and so was "Pope Awesome". Oh my, I like your taste in books! May need to take your recommendations on some of the others! Thanks! :)

    1. I was really happy I read "The Shoemaker's Wife" and I don't know where I first heard of it! We definitely have similar taste in books - which has to be a good thing, right?!

  3. This is a good list! I'm surprised Maisie Dobbs didn't make it, though! I guess we already got your two sense on that. It's on my shelf right now, at your recommendation!

    1. Tacy
      If you like Maisie Dobbs, some other similar recs for you:)

    2. Tacy! You're right - I completely forgot to put Maisie on the list. But she was definitely one of the better reads from this past year. I just finished the second book as well!

  4. Yes on the Night Circus! Argh! I thought I was the only person on the planet who wished that SOMETHING WOULD HAPPEN in that book.

  5. Christy
    We really do have similar tastes in books!! Have reserved all our library has that I haven't read:)
    Oh and Secret Keeper wasn't my favourite because the Forgotten Garden was.

  6. Wow Christy! When do you read?! I haven't read a book in YEARS. How horrible is that! I read catholic-mom-parenting books, but never anything like a story... but I really want to! I just needed someone to point me towards something worth reading... I shall start with your favorite- thanks Christy!

    1. Hey Robin I figured it was you! Yes, you definitely need to get your own google account so you can always comment!

  7. Ummm.... that was me - Robin! I actually don't have any google account of my own- oops- better rectify that... no it was not my husband John Dillon replying to your book list it was his wife!

  8. This is excellent, going to look at this list again and again. As an introvert, I really hate this trend where it is becoming cool to say you are introverted, so unfortunately I think I'll avoid that one.

    1. Butting in -- I thought this was a very perceptive comment and Christy I appreciated your thoughts too. It does seem trendy to be an introvert -- almost like people don't want to admit they AREN'T one! I have a couple of friends who insist they are introverts and the rest of us just laugh as we watch them drawing on others for their energy and excitement. This book is great, though. It has a really interesting section on how western culture has gone from being a culture of character to being a culture of personality -- to the detriment of introverts and the benefit of extroverts. So Quiet gives us a bit of our own back. At last. At least I think so. :-)

    2. It is a strange trend, and I am being way more cynical than need be I'm sure. I did learn so much from the book and really enjoyed some new insights. I'm just a little tired of how this book has spawned everyone declaring themselves highly sensitive introverts. I definitely liked the insights into how society has turned away from the importance of character to how popular you can be.

  9. I'm exactly balanced between introversion and extraversion as well - I can never get into the "amazing" features of both because I don't fit the mold for either!

    And Austenland... I kind of love it as a fluff read, but I love love love Shannon Hale's other books (mostly her young adult fiction) so I'm biased. Definitely not as good as her young adult fantasy. But I can't read much besides fiction and am SO not a discerning reader, so clearly you shouldn't take book recommendations from me!

  10. Great list! We read so many of the same things! And I have several on my list for this coming year that you recommend. I hated Gone Girl too! But I did love The Night Circus and The Paris Wife. Going to go follow you on Goodreads! :)
    Here's my list of favorites from last year:

    1. Thanks Krissa! I would have liked The Night Circus so much more if it had been shorter and had a bit of plot! A story needs plot no matter how crazy descriptive it might be!

  11. I loved your reviews and agreed with many of them. I am in the middle of Bel Canto right now (it's my book club's pick for January) and absolutely LOVE it. I also read Happier at Home and Quiet this past year and enjoyed both, esp Quiet.

    I agree about Still Alice (we did that one with my book club too) -- really sets you up for something amazing, but clunky writing at times. I've also read Genova's Left Neglected and I think (as a scientist) she is kind of a "disease writer" with a somewhat limited niche. I have read Austenland and Return to Austenland: actually I read the 2nd one first, and enjoyed it quite a bit, so I went back to read the first one but didn't find it anywhere near as good. I would have no desire or need to read a 3rd one in this series b/c I'm sure it's all (as my son would say) "same same."

  12. Great list! I love half of your non-fiction list so I'll be adding the rest to my to-read list. Can't wait to try A Magnificent Obsession! I'm a total monarchy nerd too :)

  13. Wow! You are a prolific reader. I'm about to add just about every book here to me to-read list. Except Gone Girl. I started that and 100% share your opinion. Except I didn't finish it. I see how popular it is, even with ppl whose tastes I generally share and it makes me wonder if I missed something by not finishing it. Glad to see I didn't! :-)

  14. None of your books were on my list but some are going on. Always nice to find another book blogger to follow.

  15. I loved Gone Girl in all its twisted glory. Thought the writing was brilliant, as was the characterization. And parts were laugh-out-loud funny.

  16. Don't go check out my Goodreads feed... I just added all of these to my "to read" list, and it's a little embarassing. ;) Love this list, and I LOVE that you still read so much with all those kiddos! It inspires me and gives me hope that I'll be able to keep it up!

  17. I've never heard of quite a few of your fiction titles, which I think is wonderful. Hurray for branching out! Especially because the ones I HAVE read--The Secret Keeper, Jayber Crow, Bel Canto--are favorites.

    I have two of your nonfiction picks going right now: Dad is Fat and 10 ways to destroy the imagination....

    And as for your hated/overrated titles: I felt the same way about Someday, Someday, Maybe. My expectations were low and I was pleasantly surprised. I hated Gone Girl but did think it had an interesting structure. I should have abandoned the Zelda novel but I persevered.

    And I see Brene Brown's first is in that stack--just wondering if you were underwhelmed by that one, too? If you haven't read anything else by her, I just wanted to encourage you to read her second or third book: they're sooo much better! Definite "favorite" material for 2014. :)


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