Monday, December 9, 2013

Favorite Books, 2013

Here are ten really good novels I read this year, a totally personal list, my seventh annual "Best Books" list since beginning this blog in 2007 when I was working for Harris County Public Library. Longer reviews of these books can be found on my Goodreads page or in earlier blog posts.

Benediction by Kent Haruf. Knopf, 2013.
Dad Lewis had what can only be called a good death. His pain was attended to with loving hands. He was not alone. He was deeply loved.The plainspoken, decent people of Haruf's Colorado-based novels always enchant me. For all their high plains starkness, they exemplify much that is mysterious about the human condition.
Flora by GailGodwin. Bloomsbury, 2013.
During World War II, ten year-old Helen loses the grandmother that has been her maternal mainstay. Her father is away doing mysterious war work, and Helen sets her mind against spending a summer under the care of her fawning, sentimental cousin, Flora. Strong characterization and much emotional depth.
Guests on Earth by Lee Smith. Shannon Ravenel, 2013.
Evalina Toussaint spends her adolescence at an insane asylum in Asheville, North Carolina during the 30s and 40s, though she does not seem very mentally ill. One of her hospital chums is none other than Zelda Fitzgerald. Evalina plays the piano and Zelda choreographs dances for hospital recitals. A coming of age tale, one of real substance, strong on regional and historical color.
Love Saves the Day by Gwen Cooper. Bantam, 2013.
Major meow-wow! Within a few pages, I knew Gwen Cooper had done the impossible -- made me believe I was hearing the authentic interior monologue of Prudence, the rescued cat who is the major star of this novel. But not to worry, Prudence doesn't have to carry the whole book. Readers will also lap up chapters by Sarah, the woman who originally rescues Prudence, as well as her somewhat estranged daughter, a lawyer named Laura. When Sarah dies, Laura inherits Prudence and thus the trouble begins. A humorous and heart-warming read.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Michael Joseph, 2012.
During the first weeks of caring for Will Traynor, a wealthy wheelchair-bound British quadriplegic, Louisa Clark doubts everything about her new job. Yet somehow they form a mutual admiration society. But Will is not sure he wants to continue his earthly life.... A wrenching, thoughtful and quirky read.
Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society by Amy Hill Hearth. Atria, 2012. During her midnight shift on the radio in Naples, Florida, a DJ dubbed Miss Dreamsville plays the music of Patsy Cline, Elvis and Nat King Cole. It is 1962 and there has never been a woman on the air at WNOG before. She also starts a book club which includes an African American woman and a gay man. At first glance, this book is hilarious, but also manages to cover serious ground on matters or race, gender and human nature.
The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood. W.W. Norton, 2013.
Vivien Lowe did not realize what wisdom there was in grief after losing her lover, David, to the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. When fate brings grieving people needing sympathy and a listening ear to her door, she becomes a gifted obituary writer. A surprisingly lively novel with well developed characters.
Someone by Alice McDermott. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2013. 
Marie Commeford is an unprepossessing Irish Brooklyn girl through and through. Of all things, she ends up working in a local funeral home, where she matures into the role of comforting angel for the bereaved. Will she ever find someone to love? I found this slim novel to be rich in both the sacred and profane.

 A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee. Random House, 2013.
 Helen Armstead and her husband Ben have been sleepwalking through their marriage for some years. Even their mutual love of their adopted Chinese daughter does not really give them shared ground. Then Ben, a lawyer, gets arrested for a DWI and faces a sexual assault accusation. Within a few months newly divorced Helen becomes a surprisingly gifted PR agent. Lots of twists to this multi-layered tale.
A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy. Orion, 2012.
Chicky Starr sinks her life's savings into renovating an old mansion and turning it into a restful small hotel by the sea on the western coast of Ireland. An ensemble cast of needy characters show up during the first week the hotel opens. This endearing read is the last novel from the beloved Irish author (1940 - 2012).