First Thirteen Books of 2013, Part II

Now that spring is gracing us with abundant sunshine and warm breezes, I have been taking advantage of the rocking chair on our porch. It is my new favorite reading spot. I invited my cat to sit outside with me while I read, but when a school bus passed by she freaked out, fluffed up her tail, and dashed back inside. The term scaredy-cat is apt.

Here are the rest of the books I’ve read so far this year:

7. The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

This is a story about story-telling, one that leaves the reader uncertain which version is true. It is an enjoyable and thought-provoking page turner. This is Jansma’s first novel, and it attracted a lot of attention. I heard a piece on NPR about it and then came across it at the local library. The characters reminded me of the trio from Looking for Alaska, a young adult novel by John Green.

8. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I have never read anything else by this author, but I really enjoyed the movie version of The Remains of the Day. This is a poignant story of friendship and love that endures despite painful conflict and breaches of trust. Although nothing shockingly sad happens, I cried at the end. It took me awhile to realize that this novel is set in an alternate reality and has a dystopian element. It is eerie how Ishiguro drops hints and lets the mystery unfold.

9. Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

I have neither read anything else by McEwan, nor have I seen the movie version of Atonement, but somehow this connection caused me to grab this book of the New Arrivals shelf. Serena is a math major with a love of literature. Always looking for romance, she falls in love with a married professor who refers her to MI5, and her life is never the same. I was eager to see what happened to the characters, but ultimately felt dissatisfied with this book. I can’t quite decide why.

10. The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

Set in the same fictional Mine community as Strout’s Amy and Isabelle, The Burgess Boys depicts a family under pressure. When their nephew throws a pig’s head into the local mosque, the Burgess boys swoop in to try to help diffuse the situation. As they deal with the family crisis, tensions that stem from a childhood tragedy are confronted, and each of the three siblings must face the impacts on their current relationships. Strout is a master at creating characters who are flawed and real and feel like people from every day life.

11. Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

I have been a fan of Kingsolver since I read The Poisonwood Bible (although I am also skeptical of anything endorsed by Oprah’s book club), but I never got around to reading all her novels. She reliably provides rich characters and settings while exploring the concepts of home and family. The protagonist of this novel, Codi, lost her mother at age three and her daughter at age fifteen. These losses shaped her life. She drifted from place to place, longing for love, but not feeling she deserved it. When she returns to her hometown to care for her ailing father, she slowly discovers what it means to belong.

12. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I never jumped on the bandwagon when the book or the movie came out several years ago. I enjoyed reading it, and in fact read the entire thing on one lazy Saturday. There are loveable characters and evil characters and a plot with abundant entertainment value (hence the movie), but The Help does not have the substance of an enduring classic.

I feel like we readers should be cautious. It is convenient from the vantage point of the 21st century to see all that was wrong with the Mississippi of the 1960s. Of course forcing a black maid to use a separate restroom in the garage is de-humanizing and wrong. It would be so easy to close the book and breathe a sigh of relief that things aren’t like that anymore, and to be complacent about the many inequalities that threaten our society today.

13. L’Empire des Loups (The Empire of Wolves) by Jean-Christophe Grange

Although I normally stay away from crime mysteries/thrillers, a coworker lent me this French novel. Again, it was a good motivation for language practice. It’s easy to avoid conjugating verbs in a workbook for thirty minutes, but I actually worked on reading this novel well beyond the time I allotted myself every day. It seemed to be an average quality book for its genre. I don’t think I’ll be watching the film version any time soon, because I really can’t handle violence in movies.

Question of the Day: Where is your favorite reading spot?


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