While 2012 was a great reading year, 2013 fell short in terms of ground covered. I’ve learned that I simply can’t do everything—something that took 30 years for me to discover—and thus, certain hobbies like reading books and playing music have to be put on the backburner for more important tasks like making sure the startup I invested so much time, energy and money into thrived. Nevertheless, I read when I could and made it through 22 books. I hope to double that next year, but again, am not going to put unrealistic expectations upon my hobbies and will simply try to read when I can on planes and before bed (rather than playing Candy Crush until the ridiculously wee hours of the morning). Here’s what I tackled in the final quarter of this year.
12. A Plague of Secrets by John Lescroart
I was on a flight when I finished book #11 and thus couldn’t log into my archives to find a book I’d bought, of which there are many. Since I’ve inherited SVV’s old 1st generation Kindle after mine kicked the bucket, I still have a number of books he previously had downloaded, including this one. I never intentionally seek out legal thrillers, but always immensely enjoy them when I find myself reading them (see: anything John Grisham has ever written). Even though Lescroart has written upward of two dozen such dramas, this was my first of his, and even though it was part of a series, I don’t feel I lost anything not having read any of the previous ones. The novel starts out with a murder outside a coffee shop on Haight Street revolving around a marijuana operation, and I couldn’t help loving I knew everywhere this book took place thanks to four years living in the Bay Area. It’s kind of hard to outline the plot of a crime novel without giving anything away, so let’s just say if you like legal dramas of any kind, you should probably give the Dismas Hardy series a go.
My rating: 4 out of 5
13. Allegiant by Veronica Roth
In the past few years, I’ve read a whole lot of young adult dystopian lit. In the past few years, I’ve been disappointed by the final installment of nearly every such trilogy. I won’t say Allegiant was any different—I felt like it was sorely lacking in action compared to Divergent and Insurgent—but I do think it’s one of the few series that did its characters justice in the end and tied up all loose ends adequately. (Now, Pandemonium, the final book in the Delirium series, was a different story.) The book begins where Insurgent left off, and if you haven’t read the second book since it came out in early 2012, I’d suggest rereading it as I spent so much time trying to figure out who the heck certain characters were and scenes they referenced from the past book.
Tris and a handful of other survivors decide they can’t follow the new leader Evelyn, who is more or less just another dictator who usurped the Hitler-esque character who preceded her, to form a rebel base and go “outside the walls.” What they find is that all along they were part of a greater social experiment, and they embed themselves at the headquarters of the organization running said experiment. My problem with the book was not the ending—which, spoiler alert! is a sad one—but rather the fact that nothing actually happened until there were only about 20 pages or so to go. I kept waiting to be on the edge of my seat and get that anxious feeling that wouldn’t leave me during the first two books, and it never arrived. Overall, the pace was awkward and monotonous and, at times, downright bored me, and it seemed like Roth tried to cram way too much into the final chapters that she could have stretched out over the course of the book. But I do commend her for wrapping it up eventually in a way she knew all readers wouldn’t love but that was really the only way the series could end realistically.
My rating: 3 out of 5
14. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
OK, fine. NOW I get what everyone was talking about. It’s a bestseller for a reason, blah blah blah. Honestly, I held off reading this former No. 1 by Mrs. Strayed as it sounded too touchy-feely for my liking (what can I say? I don’t like feelings). Well, I’m currently noshing on a piece of humble pie, as this was easily the best book I’ve read in ages. I’m sure by now you know the gist: The 2012 memoir chronicles Strayed’s experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail as a naive twenty-something after her mom died, her marriage ended in shambles and she dabbled in hardcore drug use. Several of my avid backpacker friends were annoyed with Strayed’s disregard for backpacking ethics and general lack of preparedness, but overall, I thought this book couldn’t have been more fulfilling. For those of you who gave up after the first 30 pages because OMG SO SAD, just know, it does get better and is worth sticking with through the very bitter (but sweet and fulfilling) end.
My rating: 5 out of 5
15. Between Sisters by Kristin Hannah
Kristin Hannah has this way of making her characters, dialogue and storylines so trite to the point you almost give up then BAM! she hits you with a hook that either has you weeping or majorly relieved (or sometimes both) by the book’s end. I’ve read many of Hannah’s sappy novels in the past—Firefly Lane being my favorite to date—and this was one was written more than a decade ago but featured a pair of sisters who couldn’t be more different (high-powered lawyer living in Seattle vs. camp owner residing in the sticks of PNW) and how they came together again when one of them got married. About midway through, the book takes a tragic turn, and the second half focuses on how the sisters handle the cards they’ve been dealt. It wasn’t Hannah’s best, but in the end, the book was OK. If you’re a fan of hers, I’d say give it a go; otherwise, there are plenty of other books out there I like a lot more than this one.
My rating: 3 out of 5
16. Savannah from Savannah by Denise Hildreth
Someone recommended this to me via Facebook and it was actually available right away as an ebook at my local library (a rarity), and let’s just say I was not a fan, of the plot, of the characters but mainly of the writing in general. OK, this was my bad for not checking the book cover before I read it and seeing that it was published by Thomas Nelson (a Christian publishing house). Not saying there’s anything wrong with Thomas Nelson in the least, but in general, the books just aren’t my cup of tea. They tend to be very unrealistic and sugarcoat things. For example, in this book, a 20-something named Savannah gets a master’s degree, turns down the biggest internship in the publishing industry in NYC to move back to her hometown of Savannah and march right into the local newspaper office and announce she was going to be taking over as the investigative reporter for the beloved columnist who happened to just die the week before. Rrrrrright, because that’s exactly how the journalism industry works. Not only was this book far from realistic, but I hated how anytime she was feeling stressed, Savannah just had to have a…Coke. You’re 25 freaking years old, Savannah! Just reach for the whiskey or, Hell, a beer every once and awhile. Needless to say, I won’t be finishing this series. Though if you’re the type who watches back-to-back Hallmark movies, maybe you’ll enjoy it.
My rating: 1 out of 5
17. Swamplandia by Karen Russell
Can somebody please tell me why this book is worthy of being named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction? While the writing itself is quite good, the plot just draaaaags along at a snail’s pace, and I’ve had this book for two years and tried on three different occasions to read it and … nothing. This time, I was actually in the Keys, near where the novel takes places in the Everglades, and thought the setting would help me power through. Instead, I lost quite a few days trying to read it yet again only to quit at 60 percent before Ava even reaches the Underworld with the Birdman in search of her long-lost sister who married a ghost named Louis Thanksgiving (say what??). I think I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I’m not going to love every mass market read (and the fact that quite a few of my Facebook and Twitter followers said they couldn’t finish it either made me feel marginally better).
My rating: 1 out of 5
17. A Howl in the Night by JK Brandon
Back story: My mom and SVV had been telling me for ages about this hilarious dog series they both loved. Given that I have pretty similar reading tastes to both of them—aside from not being down with my mom’s horror series like Janet Evanovich and not being keen on sci-fi like my husband—I finally caved. Well, I never actually knew the names of the books they were reading, so I just assumed a book entitled A Howl in the Night would be it (along with several other animal-themed books written by the same author). I stopped halfway through. This book was trying too hard, it was a bit violent for what it is, and all in all, I found the plot a bit mundane and not worth my time. It wasn’t terrible but if you’re going to read a book written by a dog, skip to the next recommendation.
My rating: 2 out of 5
19. To Fetch a Thief by Spencer Quinn
On the flip side, I never thought I would get so into a book that was written from a dog’s POV (though I know none of you are shocked if you follow me on Instagram and see the inordinate number of dog photos I post). But the Chet and Bernie Mysteries narrated by a German shepherd who flunked out of police dog school and came to live with a PI is just endearing and downright hilarious and feels exactly what you’d think it would be like to peer inside of a dog’s head. I accidentally started out of order, so if you’ve never read any of these books, you should begin with Dog On It (which I just started last night) To Fetch a Thief begins when the circus rolls into town and its star attraction, Peanut the elephant, and her trainer Uri go missing. Chet and Bernie are on the case and wind up in Mexico hot on Peanut’s trail. Though this kind of book could easily veer on the hokey side, it’s not at all, and I now know why my mom and SVV have been urging me to read these for so long. I’ll finish the seven-book series soon, no doubt, but am savoring them and reading other books in between.
My rating: 4 out of 5
20. A Cat Was Involved by Spencer Quinn
This e-book was written after the first few installments as number six in the Chet & Bernie series but actually is a prequel. If you have any interest in checking out Quinn’s dog detective books, you might as well start with this short story—which shows how a darn cat caused Chet to flunk out of police dog school—to set the stage.
My rating: 4 out of 5
21. Paper Towns by John Green
John Green can do no wrong in my mind, and how it is he had a novel that was written in 2008 and I hadn’t read was beyond me. But Paper Towns popped up in my suggested reads on my e-library account, so after having a hold on it for two months, my turn finally came and I devoured it in a matter of hours. Like most of Green’s reads, Paper Towns chronicles a male-and-female pair of teenaged protagonists with sharp tongues and big dreams. In this case, high school senior Quentin “Q” Jacobsen silently longs for the attention of his neighbor, popular girl Margo Roth Spiegelman, with whom he witnessed a suicide when they were just kids, and he gets his wish when she appears at his window one night and involves him in an unforgettable evening of mischief and debauchery. Then, the next day, Margo goes missing, and Q spends the final months of his high school career hot on her trail, trying to piece together the clues she’s left behind for him—or has she?—before he potentially stumbles upon the second show of suicide in his young life. It’s morbid at times, but it’s also rife in Green’s eloquence and humor and is a must for readers of any genre.
My rating: 5 out of 5
22. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My mom and I share a Kindle library, and this young adult book I’d never heard of popped up in my archives on Saturday afternoon when I was looking for something new to read (side note: there’s a whole lot of strong language for any of you considering giving this to your kid to read). One quick search on the NYT’s website returned a book review by none other than John Green (kismet as I just finished his book earlier that day), and when I read it, I knew I’d also read Eleanor & Park, particularly when Green made this bold statement: “Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.”
In a nutshell, Eleanor is the new kid at school, pleasantly plump with a crown of wild red curls surrounding her like a mysterious aura of mayhem. Park is the semi-geeky, but also semi-popular, comic book-reading, music-loving half-Asian kid in Omaha, Nebraska who lets Eleanor share his seat on the bus on her first day when all the other kids shun her. What develops over the 325 pages is a beautiful, awkward and powerfully evocative friendship and, eventually, love. There isn’t exactly a plot per se; rather, this book is all about character development and relationships, and quite simply, it’s a beautiful piece of literature. It’s also super quick, as I blew through it in in the less-than-four-hours it took us to drive home from Memphis yesterday.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5
In case you haven’t been keeping up with my past book posts and are looking for something to read, here are my 5 favorite books I finished in 2013. I would give you 10, but honestly, I didn’t read that many books that I just loved this year.
- The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
- The Wolf & the Watchman by Scott Johnson
- The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey
- Paper Towns by John Green
- Wild by Cheryl Strayed
And if you’re looking for ongoing reads of any kind, I would highly recommend the Her Royal Spyness books by Rhys Bowen for a lighthearted and funny historical fiction series or the Chet and Bernie Mysteries by Spencer Quinn.