Monday, December 30, 2013

Favorite Books of 2013

I never do a "Best of" list at the end of the year. Instead, I do a list of my favorite books of the year. It's a nice way to look back at the year, remembering the books that moved me, or books that stayed with me for one reason or another. It's a personal list, so I'm sure there isn't a duplicate any place. And, I have to say many of these authors are friends. Saying that, I still reviewed their books as I would any other. But, when it comes to favorites, maybe that friendship gave them an edge. Why not? It's my list of favorites, not a "Best of" list. I don't rank the books in any order. These are my ten favorite, with one special one added. And, they're listed in the order I read them.

Sophie Littlefield's Garden of Stones was one of my two selections from books I read in February. It's the

story of Lucy Takeda, who was in eighth grade in Los Angeles in December 1941, the privileged daughter of a successful businessman. Three months later, she and her mother are in the prison camp Manzinar. Littlefield's story of a mother's sacrifice, strong women, and mystery, is a powerful, unforgettable novel.

The other February release is Kaye Wilkinson Barley's Whimsey. Although I've never met Kaye, she's been an online friend for years. That's all the more reason to celebrate the publication of her debut novel. It's the story of a woman drawn back to her childhood home on a magical island, Whimsey, off the coast of Georgia. Whimsey is an artists' colony, and it's there that Emma Hamilton Foley will have to face her demons and her feelings about her past and the Whimsey magic. When I reviewed it, I said, "Barley brings all of her love of southern life, southern women, and art to Whimsey. It's a story that sparkles with life and humor, and characters who enjoy all of it. And,Whimsey's magical realism will remind readers of Ellery Adams and Sarah Addison Allen. It's a charming book, filled with laughter."

I've been a fan of Beth Hoffman's books before Saving CeeCee Honeycutt was even published since I reviewed it for Library Journal. Beth avoids the sophomore slump with her second novel, Looking For Me. Teddi Overman tells the story of her younger life growing up on a Kentucky farm with her parents, her Grammy Belle and beloved brother, Josh. When I reviewed it, I said, "Hoffman intricately weaves a love of nature, animals and plants and flowers, into a complex story of family, disappointment and tragedy. Every character, every animal is carefully brought to life with an essential role. There are no unimportant people or animals in this carefully crafted, compelling story." Looking for Me will be out in paperback in April. We think enough of Beth Hoffman and her books that we're devoting two weeks of our adult summer reading program to the book, and Beth will kick off the week by speaking at the library.

I only have one juvenile book on my list, Chris Grabenstein's Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's LibraryMy

mother still reminds me that I always wished I could be locked in the library when I was a kid. No place had more magic. Chris Grabenstein captures all of that magic of a library, along with the fun of game playing, as he pits twelve-year-olds against each other in his own reality show, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's LibraryGrabenstein's book, designed for eight to twelve-year-olds, is a little Charlie and the Chocolate Factory mixed with reality show competitions and literary trivia. It's a love letter to libraries, but it's not a boring book that will turn kids off. It's fun, competitive, and filled with adventure. And, if I was a kid, I wouldn't really want to Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library.

The second debut novel on my list is Jessica Brockmole's Letters from SkyeLetters from Skye deserves a moment in the sun. This novel of star-crossed lovers is also a story of mother and daughter, family, and wartime romance. And, it's all told in the form of lovely letters full of poetry and longing. It's a novel that will tug at your heart.

Louise Penny's 2013 Armand Gamache mystery, How the Light Gets In, is on a

number of "Best of" lists, and it deserves to be. It's a novel that brings to a culmination many of the story lines in the series. Light and dark. Good and evil. Corruption and honesty. Louise Penny has always dug into opposing forces in the world. In The Beautiful Mystery, she foreshadowed some of the troubles of How the Light Gets In. One foreboding statement hung over that entire book, Matthew 10:36. "And a man's foes shall be of his own household." That quote is echoed in the course of this latest mystery, but Louise Penny always leaves room for the light, for hope. In fact, it's a quote from Leonard Cohen that offers hope, and provided the title for the book, "There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." There's no crack of weakness in any of Louise Penny's mysteries. Once again, she has written a beautiful, compelling story, one with more tension than many of the previous books. 

There's one cozy mystery on my list, Ellery Adams' Poisoned Prose. The latest Book by the Bay mystery hits the mark in every respect, from the story, the characters and setting, the careful words, to the final sentence. Even the cover art by Kimberly Schamber is wonderful, just perfect for this book. The best village mysteries bring characters and a setting to life, and invite readers back, despite the occasional murder. Louise Penny does it with Armand Gamache and Three Pines. Ellery Adams does it as well with Oyster Bay, North Carolina and Olivia Limoges and her friends. Poisoned Prose is a book about writers and storytellers and words, and there happens to be a murder.

This year, there's a Nora Roberts book on my list. Dark Witch is the first in the

Cousins O'Dwyer trilogy. It's a romance with historical and mystical overtones. Dark Witch is more than just another bestseller by the author of 199 novels under her own name as well as the J.D. Robb books. Dark Witch is magical in so many ways. There's powerful magick. There's power in the number three; the three cousins, the three friends, the three animals. Ireland itself is a land of magic. And, Nora Roberts' new book has the strongest magic of all, the magic of "love freely given and freely accepted".  

Gail Carriger's Curtsies & Conspiracies is the only young adult novel on the favorite books list. The second book in her steampunk Finishing School series is  a wonderful foray into that alternate Victorian world where steam power is important, lighter-than-air dirigibles are common, and werewolves and vampires are part of Queen Victoria's government, although some people are not happy with that last fact. Sophronia Temminnick is a fourteen-year-old learning to use her wits and her skills. Curtsies & Conspiracies is a coming-of-age novel for a young girl in Victorian England. There's humor as Sophronia gets caught, and caught up in, her adventures. There are just hints of romance in the novel. The supernatural and mechanical creatures are marvelous. It's a fast-paced adventure filled with suspense and secrets. And, best of all, Gail Carriger leaves hints of more espionage and adventure to come in the next book.

And, the last novel on the official favorites list is Craig Johnson's novella featuring Sheriff Walt Longmire,
Spirit of Steamboat. Following my original review, my sister bought it for a Christmas present for her husband, and my mother finished it yesterday. On Christmas Eve, Sheriff Walt Longmire is in his office when a young woman walks in. Although she seems to know Walt, he doesn't recognize her. She also wants to see a picture of Lucian Connally, the former sheriff. Walt takes her to see Lucian in an assisted living facility. He's drunk, but aware enough to say he doesn't know her either. When she whispers the word, "Steamboat", the story takes an unusual turn to a Christmas past. In just 146 pages, Johnson manages to pay homage to the past, and bring back the youth and life of a few of his characters. This is a story of courage and character. In the acknowledgements, he says this is an odd little book. "It's not a mystery per se, but rather an adventure/thriller with mysterious elements; sometimes it's not so much about the suspense of killing characters off in a book, but rather, of trying to keep them alive." This "odd little book", Spirit of Steamboat, manages to bring characters to life and keep the reader turning pages.

Because it's my list, I'm adding Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests, Seventh Edition, edited by Cynthia Orr & Diane Tixier Herald. It's a readers' advisory book, and I wrote the chapter about mysteries. And, if I don't include a book with my chapter in it, who will?

I read 156 books in 2013, a little low for me, but a move across country and a new job took a toll on my reading time. However, it's always fun to go back and look at what I read during the year. So, what about you? Do you have some favorite books from 2013?


Nancy said...

Two of my favorites made your list, the Penny and Adams books. I haven't reviewed my list yet, but those two stand out in memory.
Happy New Year, Lesa!

Lesa said...

Happy New Year, Nancy! Thanks for chiming in to say two of your favorites made the list.

Angela said...

Glad to see Louise Penny's "How the Light gets in" made your list. Love the series. Happy new Year.

Beth Hoffman said...

What a wonderful surprise! I'm delighted to see "Looking for Me" on your list. With all the books you read throughout the year, it's an incredible honor. Thank you so much, Lesa!

I can't wait to see you in June and speak at your beautiful library. We'll have so much fun!

Lesa said...

I love that series, too, Angela, and "How the Light Gets In" was fantastic.

Lesa said...

Of course "Looking for Me" made the list, Beth. It's the books that I'm still talking about that make the list. I booktalked that just last week. I can't wait to see you, too! We will have fun!

Kaye Barley said...

What a wonderful surprise. A really, really wonderful surprise. I am totally gobsmacked. And grateful. And I love you, Lesa Holstine, thank you.

Reine said...

Great list, Lesa! I've read and loved a few: Kaye Barley's WHIMSEY— of course, HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN—could not possibly miss one of Louise Penny's, and Nora Roberts' DARK WITCH which I bought after reading your review.

Thanks, Lesa, for writing informed, reliable reviews.


Ellery Adams said...


I am overwhelmed to stand in such amazing company. Thank you so much for all you do for the reading community. I nominate you as best book champion of 2013 and onward!

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Kaye. Whimsey deserves to be there.

Lesa said...

Reine! Thank you. What a wonderful, wonderful comment - "informed, reliable reviews." That means so much to me. I'm glad you enjoyed some of the books I've suggested during the year. I'm hoping we'll share a number of good ones in 2014, too!

Lesa said...

Ellery, That's funny. I'd love that title of Best Book Champion. My boss told me I'm a one trick pony - all books, all the time. But, by being that pony, I was offered another place to talk about books in 2014. I do this because I want to share the books I enjoy. And Poisoned Prose was definitely one of them in 2013.

Anonymous said...

Dearest Lesa,

Wow - what an honor, and such GREAT company. So exciting to be writing and reading mysteries at this time when there is such an explosion of talent. Thank you for putting Gamache et al on your very prestigious list!!

Lesa said...

Oh, Louise. Gamache has been on my list since Still Life. You're an exceptional writer with an extraordinary gift. I can't wait to see you in March at Left Coast Crime!