I read a lot of books this year (172 as of my writing this), and I thought it might be fun to identify the outliers at both ends of the spectrum.
1. The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers – There is so much life in this novella, complete with joy and pain, disappointment and transcendence. It is, without doubt, the best book I read all year. (*)
2. Big Boy by Ruthie Knox – Hands down my favorite Ruthie Knox book (which is really saying something, guys), Big Boy is remarkably atypical for the genre. It features characters whose sole, necessary, act of selfishness in lives governed by sacrifice is the small amount of time they take from each other. And when they shift to giving instead of taking? It’s magic. (<3)
3. Snow-Kissed by Laura Florand – Infertility, grief, and a broken marriage, these are the subjects of this beautifully moving novella that explores the jagged edges of two people, long in love, who were blown apart by grief but who find a way back. (<3)
4. A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant – I don’t know that I have ever been more surprised by a romance novel than I was by Cecilia Grant’s debut. Thematically, the novel discusses trust, intimacy, and the slow development of love with humor so sly it’s easy to miss. But it’s most remarkable (I think) for its complete lack of instalust and magical chemistry. If you haven’t read this book, you really should. (<3)
5. About Last Night by Ruthie Knox – I read this book in one sitting and, when I was done, I started it again immediately, because I just wasn’t ready to let it go. Through this book, Knox taught me how to be a better reader (and, by extension, a better woman, perhaps), to sit and savor the moments of truth that can be found in a book, to rediscover and embrace the reason I read. (<3)
6 and 7. The Heiress Effect and The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan – My favorite thing about Courtney MIlan’s writing is that when you start reading her books, her characters always seem so damn mysterious, and that mystery never seems like a clever device to snag reader interest. It’s just that her characters are so full, possess such depth, that it takes a few hundred pages to get to know them. And then you do, and your heart just breaks, because their issues are real. You’ve met women like Jane, and you know your history — and your current affairs — so you know her plight (and her sister’s) is not unusual. You know that all the pieces of Violet’s character really existed, lived out by real women throughout the ages. And it hurts so much to know it, so deeply, so viscerally, a punch. But you also know men like Oliver and Sebastian. And even though it hurts so much to read and experience all that reality, at the end you are gifted a triumph, and it gives you the strength to keep putting your back into it, to keep living your life. (<3)
8. The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz – By the time I reached the end of The Mistress, I was crying a little, laughing a lot, pumping my fist in the air, feeling intellectually alive and overwhelmed by joy. And I felt rather like I did after I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the first time, like this story that had always existed behind a veil had been revealed, and I’d had the good fortune to witness that unveiling. (*)
9. Too Hot to Handle by Victoria Dahl – This book is funny, but it isn’t lighthearted. It’s like that moment when the seas of life have buffeted you about so much that you end up getting a mouthful of sea water, and you try to spit it out with some dignity, but it just comes out as warm, extra salty drool, and suddenly it’s fucking hilarious that — on top of everything else — you’ve just drooled, so instead of worrying about drowning, you just laugh. Anyway, it’s kind of a coming of age story for people who waited until their thirties to figure themselves out, but it doesn’t have any of that angst because it just doesn’t have time for bullshit. (*)
10. To Win Her Heart by Karen Witemeyer – This one made the list because it is probably the most romantic story I read all year. I mean, come on: Eden and Levi fall in love writing letters to each other about Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. It was a foregone conclusion that I would love this story, that it would stick with me all year. (<3)
Well, there are the obvious contenders for worst books read all year. there’s even an obvious winner. But there were also a slew of books that just disappointed me (or made me disappointed in myself). Chief among these is:
Most disappointing book of 2013: And Then She Fell by Stephanie Laurens (<3 :~(…). I cannot believe that I bought this, my 31st Laurens book. I am deeply disappointed in myself. On the other hand, it seems to have finally helped me break the cycle of addiction. The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh, the next book in the series, has been out for six months, and I’ve had absolutely no desire to purchase it.
So there you have it. Many of these books were published in 2013 but not all of them. Some of these books were received as e-ARCs from publishers (marked with *) and some were purchased by me (marked with <3).
What are the best and worst books you read this year?