I had a good year of reading, but the holidays were rough with the closing of another bookstore. I read 71 books - averaging 1.36 books a week, one book more than last year. I read three excellent books this year, it was difficult to choose just number one.
1. The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell. I read this book in January, but it has stayed at the forefront of my mind all year long. It is an absolutely fantastic book about two girls living in Scotland. When their no account parents die, they bury them in the backyard to avoid being taken away and possibly split up by the authorities. They end up forming a quasi-family with a ostracized old man who lives in the neighborhood. Neither of the girls is very likable, but you can't help but root for them. Very dark at times, but I really cared about these people. Sadly, while this book was well reviewed when it came out, I did not see it on any "Best Of" lists at the end of the year.
2. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. This is a book that I like more now then when I finished it. Long after putting it down, I kept thinking about it and it kept growing on me. It tells the story of a British woman who's life keeps rebooting when she dies. She remembers little bits of her previous lives, but vaguely realizes that she is moving towards an unknown goal. Because of the repetitive nature of the rebooting, the book is a little hard to get into, but it is a beautifully told tale and well worth the trip it talks you on. This was one of the best reviewed books of the year, finishing at the top of several best of lists.
3. The Son by Philipp Meyer. An exceptional story of several generations of a Texas family. Eli, the first white child born in the new Republic of Texas, is captured by the Comanche at the age of 13. The book follows his adventures with them and then his later life as a Texas Ranger and a cattleman. We also follow the story of his son, Peter, and Jeannie, Eli's great-granddaughter, a woman trying to prove herself in the oil business. The scenes with the Comanche and then the Texas Rangers are the most exciting, but the story never lets up, keeping you involved throughout. Peter & Jeannie's stories are not as exciting as Eli's, but they tell a fascinating story of how Texans dealt with hardships, both natural and man made. Reminiscent of James Michener in scope, but Meyer is a better storyteller.
4. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Wonderfully comic love story about a scientist with high functioning Asperger's that sets out to find a wife using compatibility questionnaires. Rosie Jarman comes into his life to assist with the project, she is “the world’s most incompatible woman . . . late, vegetarian, disorganized, irrational”. The story manages to be touching and laugh out loud funny at the same time. The main character reminded me of Sheldon from "The Big Bang Theory", but I kept picturing Benedict Cumberbatch in the role. Highly recommended.
5. The Martian by Andy Weir. Excellent story of an astronaut scientist marooned on Mars. Mark Watney is left behind by the rest of his crew in an emergency when they believe him dead. He has to figure out ways to stay alive as long as he can, first minute by minute and eventually day by day. The story is mostly told in his log entries. First a great survival story, what make it really special is the resourcefulness and the engineering Watney uses to make it through each day. I loved the characters and the story. This was an advance copy that I received from Crown Publishing and will be released February 11, 2014.
6. The Ocean At the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I am oh so late to the Neil Gaiman bandwagon. I have never tried him before this year, and I am kicking myself for it. I still have a ways to go, but have read three of his works this year. This was by far the best of them. It is a beautiful, moving tale of a boy who makes a very special friend in rural England. This is a short fantasy tale, but it really packs an emotional punch. More than anything it is about the things we experienced as children and what happens to those memories as we grow older. I have fond memories of several books that I read this year, but scenes from this one pop into my head at random times and make me very happy or melancholy.
7. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. This young adult novel started a little slow, but just kept getting better and better. It is the story of two girls in WWII England, one a transport pilot and one who works in intelligence. One of the girls is captured and interrogated by the Germans. Much like with "The Book Thief", I was surprised that this title was marketed for young adults. This adventure kept me on the edge of my seat and had me laughing out loud and in tears at times. It is an amazing story of friendship, highly recommend it and I think it would make an excellent film.
8. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. A wonderful, magical book and one that I should have read years ago. Two very good, literary friends have recommended it over the years, but I always passed until now. This is a book for book lovers, it tells the story of a beloved, but mysterious author finally telling her life story to a bookseller. The story has a fine Gothic feeling to it, it is a wonderful book to get lost in.
9. The Thicket by Joe Lansdale. Very entertaining thriller set in East Texas in the early 1900s. In a vicious attack, 16 year old Jack sees his grandfather killed and his younger sister abducted. He enlists the help of a gravedigger and a bounty hunting dwarf to try to track down the men who did it. The story moves quickly with equal parts laugh out loud humor and hard core violence, in other words, typical Joe Lansdale. One of the most fun reads of the year.
10. NOS4A2 - Joe Hill. This was a very good year for the King family. Had I picked the 20 best books, Stephen King ("Dr. Sleep") and his sons, Joe Hill ("NOS4A2") & Owen King ("Double Feature") would have all had books on the list. But this an epic horror novel about a woman trying to hunt down a mysterious man who takes children. Charlie Manx is a villain that could take on Pennywise the Clown or any of Stephen King's great bad guys. This is a book that will change the way you look at cheap Christmas decorations forever.
Other book that I loved this year were "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck (read it for the first time this year), "A Higher Call" by Adam Makos (my favorite non-fiction of the year), "The Cuckoo's Calling" by J.K. Rowling (proof for me that she can easily move beyond Harry Potter), and "The Supremes at Earl's All You Can Eat Diner" by Edward Kelsey Moore (good Southern fiction in the vein of Fannie Flagg or Joshilyn Jackson).
And finally, the book that I just despised this year - "The Dinner" by Herman Koch. This book was well reviewed and a moderate bestseller, but I just felt dirty reading it. It is a Dutch book about two couples having dinner in a fancy restaurant. They are there to discuss something dark that has happened in their life. I saw a review comparing it to "Gone Girl', but it was nothing like that. Very slow moving and very little excitement. Almost gave up a couple of time, but made it through the whole thing.
I am looking forward to reading more wonderful books in 2014, but not sure what kind of year it will be. For the first time in 24 years, I may not be selling books...