2013: Very Good Reads

Of 144 books read in 2013, here are my VGRs:

Two-Part Inventions, by Lynne Sharon Schwartz: As a musician, I found this book especially fascinating and thought-provoking.  It starts with the death of Suzanne, a pianist who suffered from crippling stage fright and only found fame later in life through recordings.  The recordings turn out to have been brilliantly edited by her husband, Phil, who inserted bits and pieces and even movements from other pianists’ recordings into Suzanne’s recordings.  The book moves between the present, when listeners and websites are starting to discover the plagiarism, and the past, detailing Suzanne and Phil’s childhoods, teenage years, and beyond.

Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World, by Sabina Berman: This one, I remember without having to look it up on Amazon to jog my memory, so it obviously stuck with me.  A fascinating story, beautifully written, about an autistic girl who is allowed to run wild until her mother dies and her aunt arrives to take over the family business, a tuna cannery.  Karen, the child, grows up to take over the company in a unique manner.

Among Others, by Jo Walton: I inhaled this book about a young Welsh girl sent to boarding school in England.  Mori was left crippled and her twin sister dead from a battle to prevent their mother from harnessing dark magic.  Mori is a huge book lover and struggles to find like-minded friends, get to know her father, and grieve for her sister in an austere and unfriendly boarding school.

A House with Four Rooms, by Rumer Godden: I don’t know why it took me so long to pick up the second volume of Godden’s memoirs, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down.  She led such an interesting life, and her memoirs are quick, fascinating reads.

Something Missing, by Matthew Dicks: I loved this book about a thief, Martin, who steals regularly from many different homes.  He considers the people he robs from his “clients”, and has a very strict way he goes about his job.  He ends up interfering for the better in several clients’ lives.  I will be looking for other books by Dicks, as this was one of my favorite books this month.

The Ice Diaries, by Lexi Revellian: Really interesting novel about a future where disease and climate change have completely altered the world.  Tori lives in a London buried in snow up to the 10th (?) floor of buildings, with constant snowstorms and cold.  She has formed a small community with a few other people and is getting along okay until she finds an injured man in the snow and saves his life.  He is on the run from a small gang and his appearance alters all of their lives.

Priceless, by Robert Wittman: Excellent memoir of a man who led the FBI’s art crime division.  Although he came off as somewhat arrogant at times, he deserved to, if he did even half of what he said he did.  Really cool stories about the recovery of various artwork over the years throughout his career, and lots of undercover work.

A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy: I definitely felt a pang when I started this, Binchy’s last book.  I always enjoy her novels, some more than others, and this was a solid offering.  A large cast of characters entwine in various ways through a house-turned-B&B in west Ireland.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, by Matthew Dicks: I enjoyed this just as much as Something Missing, and Dicks has become a must-read for me.  This story is about a young boy’s imaginary friend, Budo, and how Budo ends up saving his human friend from a very bad situation.  This is not a children’s book, even if it sounds like one!

Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer: I liked this follow-up to Cinder better than I expected to.  Meyer does a great job combining fairy tales with sci-fi, and I look forward to the next book in the Lunar Chronicles.

The Soloist, by Steve Lopez: I listened to this while driving home from northern Virginia, and it was incredible, helping me forget that a 3-hour drive was taking me 5 hours.  I haven’t seen the movie, so although I remember reading a column at some point about Nathaniel Ayers, I didn’t know much of the story.  Journalist Steve Lopez sees a homeless man playing a violin with only 2 strings one day in Los Angeles, and gets drawn into a friendship with the schizophrenic man who was once a Juilliard student.  The ups and downs as he tries to help Nathaniel are fascinating and engrossing.

The Last Runaway, Tracy Chevalier: This is my favorite Chevalier book to date.  A young Quaker girl travels from England to America in the mid-1800s, and she gets involved with the Underground Railroad.  On Goodreads, it looks like not as many liked it as much as I did, but I really enjoyed reading it and couldn’t put it down.

Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes: This book knocked my socks off – I couldn’t put it down.  Lou Clark loses her job as a waitress in a cafe, and goes to work for a suicidal quadriplegic.  Social commentary within a romance, and have tissues handy at the end.

The View from Penthouse B, by Elinor Lipman: Probably my favorite Lipman novel since her first one, Then She Found Me (read it, don’t watch the horrible awful movie with Helen Hunt).  Gwen-Laura, the middle sister of three, is newly widowed.  For companionship and financial savings, she moves into her divorced sister Margot’s penthouse.  Said divorced sister has lost all her money to Bernie Madoff, and her ex-husband was a fertility doctor who took the direct route with multiple patients, now in prison for fraud.  The sisters take in another roommate, a young gay man who becomes their fast friend and personal assistant.  Margot’s ex gets out on parole and moves into a small apartment in the same building, and as Margot navigates his arrival in her life again, Gwen-Laura hesitantly dips her toe into the dating world.

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, by Teddy Wayne: Excellent novel with an 11-year-old pop star narrator, who is an endearing and heartbreaking mix of innocence and cynicism.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt: Powerful novel set in the 1980s about a young teenager whose favorite uncle dies of AIDS.  Devastated by his death, she forms a friendship with his grieving lover.

Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala: Incredibly moving memoir of a woman who lost her husband, 2 young sons, and both parents in the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka.  It’s hard to read, but exquisitely written.

The Hypnotist’s Love Story, by Liane Moriarty: I love love loved this book!  A hypnotherapist starts dating a widower who happens to have a stalker ex-girlfriend.  The stalker’s sections are written in the first person, which gives an eerie intimacy to her viewpoint.

Big Girl Small, by Rachel Dewoskin: Fascinating coming-of-age novel about a 16-year-old dwarf, Judy Lohden, who attends a fine arts high school.  It was hard to read at times, but Dewoskin gives her heroine a compelling voice.

The Last Letter from Your Lover, by Jojo Moyes: Not as gut-wrenching as Me Before You, but another excellent story from Moyes, this one about lovers separated by circumstance and bad luck/timing.

Sight Reading, by Daphne Kalotay: I really liked this, but I’m always a sucker for novels about classical musicians.  This is the story of three people – Nicholas, a gifted composer, his fragile first wife, Hazel, and Remy, a talented young violinist who meets Nicholas when she is in college and eventually becomes his second wife.  Wonderful novel about the role of art in life and what makes a family.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman: A slim offering from Gaiman, but a good one.  Nostalgic, eerie, chilling at times…  Never uninteresting.

Lexicon, by Max Barry: Interesting story about a school that teaches people to use language to manipulate and control minds.  An exciting thriller that keeps up a good pace throughout.

Love Minus Eighty, by Will McIntosh: I am adding McIntosh to my long list of authors I keep tabs on, to be sure I don’t miss any new releases.  This was a fascinating novel about a facility in the future that cryogenically stores women who have died and runs a dating/marriage service out of said facility, at great cost.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, by Matthew Quick: It is Leonard Peacock’s 18th birthday, and he has big plans: kill his former best friend, then kill himself. Riveting read that I couldn’t put down.

Night Film, by Marisha Pessl: I’ve been waiting years (seven I think?) for Pessl to come out with another book, after Special Topics in Calamity PhysicsNight Film did not disappoint, and it was a gripping, dark thriller that kept me hooked. It’s the story of a journalist who is obsessed with a reclusive filmmaker and his prodigy daughter, who dies at the beginning of this book, apparently by suicide.

A Moment Comes, by Jennifer Bradbury: Terrific YA novel set just before partition in India in 1947. Three teens, a Muslim, a Sikh, and a British cartographer’s daughter, cross paths and have their lives forever changed.

The Girl You Left Behind, by Jojo Moyes: Weaving together two stories, one of an artist’s wife in France in 1916 dealing with Germans occupying her small town, and another of a young woman in the present who has been widowed and is desperate to hang onto a portrait given to her by her husband, a portrait that is at the center of a controversy over its legitimate ownership.

The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri: Lahiri is an excellent writer, and her books never fail to engage me. This was the story of 2 brothers from Calcutta and the very different paths their lives take.

We Are Water, by Wally Lamb: A strong read about art, family, life, and love. Annie Oh, a middle-aged artist, has left her husband for Viveca, the art dealer who ushered in her professional success. The story is told through multiple voices – Annie, her husband, her children – as Annie and Viveca prepare for their wedding.

The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty: A woman finds a letter that her husband wrote to her, to be opened upon his death. The catch? He’s still alive, and the confession in his letter has far-reaching consequences on their family and community.

Across a Star-Swept Sea, by Diana Peterfreund: Although this was billed as a sequel to For Darkness Shows the Stars, it’s not – though those characters do show up in the novel eventually. This stands on its own, and is a very fun loose retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel, set in a future world. Strong characters, good continuation of world building.

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion: Interesting, quirky book about a genetics professor with Asperger’s (though he doesn’t know that) who decides it’s time to get married, so he embarks on a scientific search for a wife, and of course meets a woman completely wrong (right) for him.

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