5 favorites

I’ve read lots of pleasant books this year, books that were well-written, compelling stories with believable characters. But I haven’t read many books that changed my world like I did last year. Nothing that is on the same level as Excellent Women, Death Comes for the Archbishop or The Song of Achilles. Therefore, I found it hard to choose my top five books of the year so far because everything I’ve read has been about on the same level of excellence – everything really good, but not earth shattering for me. So,after much thought and debate, I’ve chosen the following five as my favorites through June. A nice surprise is that I read two of them for my book club.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson“The writing in Life After Life is quite beautiful, the kind of writing that gets to your heart and  makes you think and ponder the purpose of life and the nature of human behavior. I really loved the setting and the time period (England and the early twentieth century) and was mesmerized by the scenes set during the London bombings during World War II. I worried about how Atkinson would finish the novel, but the ending is perfect and complete.”

The Innocents by Francesca Segal ” Francesca Segal has done a marvelous job of transforming Wharton’s tale into a 21st century story of duty vs. desire. The setting is brilliant and utterly fascinating and the characters are all complex and sympathetic.”

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett “I think Ann Patchett created a quiet masterpiece with State of Wonder. I enjoyed it, engaged with it and was emotionally affected by the story more than I have been by a novel in a while. Her writing is understated yet gorgeous and she doesn’t judge her characters – she tells their story and leaves the interpretation to the reader.”

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles “The two best things about this novel are the setting and Katey. Towles conjures the allure of the city with his vibrant descriptions of the buildings, the streets, the nightlife, the energy and bustle. Katey is described with the same enthusiasm. She is smart, funny, clever, sassy and self-reflective. It is a joy to watch her make her way in the world and discover who she wants to be and how she wants to live. She narrates the story and her voice is completely endearing and authentic.”

The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford“Jean Stafford is a vivid storyteller who shows an utter lack of sympathy for her characters that I found disconcerting, but refreshing. Their weakness and folly is harshly paraded before us yet I understood and liked them the better for it. The confusion, bitterness and yearning of adolescence is painfully depicted so that we can identify with Ralph and Molly though we may not want to be in the same room with them.”

These are my five favorites of the 30 books I read during the first half of the year. I can’t wait to discover my favorites of the second half of 2013.

What are your favorites books of 2013 (so far)? Do you have any exciting plans for the weekend?

14 Comments

  1. I’ve read two of these – The Innocents and Rules of Civility – and loved both. Great picks 🙂

    • I haven’t read any of these, but being a long-time fan of Kate Atkinson I’m looking forward with anticipation to sitting down with Life After Life soon. Your review of the Jean Stafford book is also very intriguing; I actually searched for her yesterday in my local library system but she’s sadly not represented; must cast my net wider.

      Picking a top 5 for the first half of 2013 was easy/hard. I did read some rather outstanding books. A few more than 5, actually, but here are the ones that really stood out. (And as I was going through my reading list I noted that I’ve only reviewed three of these; the others deserve more time than I could spare at the time of reading, so they’ll likely need to be re-read before I can do them justice.)

      All the Little Live Things (1967) by Wallace Stegner – Two couples at differing points in their lives become neighbours and friends in a rural California setting. The book examines love in various forms – romantic, platonic, parental – as well as the different ways individuals deal with emotional traumas and the brutal realities of too-early deaths. Sounds grim, but it is a hauntingly presented story which I found powerful, thought-provoking and ultimately comforting in its examination of ways of embracing grief and going forward.

      The Joyous Season (1964) by Patrick Dennis – another farcical period-piece (the period in question being 1960s, upper-class New York) by Auntie Mame’s author. Two children cope with their parents’ proposed divorce in a very “civilized” way. Mostly humorous, with a truly poignant ending.

      The Sisters Brothers (2011) by Patrick DeWitt – I missed reading this when it was all the rage a year or two ago, but now I get what all the buzz was about. A rather twisted saga of two brothers employed as contract killers in the 1850s. Very dark, very clever, very funny.

      Crewe Train (1926) by Rose Macaulay – a highly unusual, absolutely stoic English girl who has grown up in an isolated Spanish village is brought back to England by her upper-class relations after she is orphaned. The resulting cultural clashes are highly entertaining, and highlight the foibles of “accepted behaviour” in a rather cunning way.

      Hostages to Fortune (1933) by Elizabeth Cambridge – a quiet domestic drama centered around a doctor’s wife, her marriage, and her motherhood. A keen-eyed examination of a common experience which has many parallels to family life today. The essentials never change.

      As for this weekend, hmm, let’s see… Yesterday I (unexpectedly!) bought a piano in the big city several hours away; today will be devoted to getting it home. Huge family reunion going on this weekend just a few miles away; all of my husband’s relations will be convening, so I’ll be cooking for that, and attending, of course, PLUS my elderly mother who is at present in the hospital after a bad fall last week will need multiple visits; she’s in the small city an hour away. So driving, talking, cooking, eating – in that order – are my themes for the long weekend! Not much reading, I fear. It’ll be good, though. 🙂

      • Barb, it sounds like you have a really fun and busy weekend planned! Enjoy!

        Your top books so far sound really great. I haven’t read any of your choices, but I love the sound of all of them, especially Hostages to Fortune and The Joyous Season. I’ll be reading The Sisters Brothers at some point soon as I am on a bit of a Western kick at the moment. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • They were both really wonderful. I think Rules of Civility surprised me – I didn’t think it was going to be as serious as it turned out to be.

  2. I think my top books so far this year would have to include:
    – Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie
    – Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin
    – My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
    – The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki
    – The American Senator by Anthony Trollope

    I’m doing really well this year reading-wise — nearly half the books I’ve read have been from my own shelves, and I’m making great progress on my challenges — and reading lots of classics. However, my bogging has suffered. I’ve spent much more time reading versus writing than I did the past couple of years.

    Last year I read both The Rules of Civility and State of Wonder. I really preferred State of Wonder and now I want to read Ann Patchett. I also own The Mountain Lion which I picked up at the library sale and I’d mostly ignored it, but your post makes me want to move it up on the TBR list!

    • The Mountain Lion should definitely be moved up on your list! It deserves lots more recognition.

      I haven’t read any of your top books, but I have had The Makioka Sisters on my radar after Lisa at TBR313 gave it a rave review.

      I’ve done the opposite of you this year – I’ve read mostly library books and mostly contemporary fiction. I’m not super satisfied with that, but it’s been a lot of job-related reading.

  3. Excited to see State of Wonder on there 🙂 I am about half way through it right now and that just gets me more pumped to continue reading. I love it so far!

    • It is an amazing book – I won’t say anything about the ending, but it is a blockbuster. We had a lot of discussion about it in my book club!

  4. I’ve been very lucky this year. I found I’ve read a lot of great books. Last month I was able to write a post on my top ten books from the first half of the year. Here’s hoping that the next six months go well for us both.

  5. I’ve read Life After Life and really want to get to Patchett sometime, even more since I’ve now read her mother’s work. Here’s hoping the rest of the year leaves you with a few amazing books that trump these! My favourites so far as Bitter Greens (hands down favourite) and Taylor Stevens’s The Doll.

    • I didn’t have a hands down favorite so far, but I hope to have one in the second half of the year. I will have to go back and read your thoughts on Bitter Greens – I remember liking the cover, but not what it is about!

  6. Loved Rules of Civility and The Innocents! I want to read the Kate Atkinson. Hope you had a good weekend!

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