1. Longbourn, Jo Baker - It's a rather brilliant idea, and one I just couldn't pass up - especially with so many recommendations. (I think I heard about it first on Books on the Nightstand) While Elizabeth and Darcy are busy falling in love upstairs, what was happening downstairs? Perhaps we can thank the (now joyless and completely annoying) Downton Abbey for the current upswing in interest in below stairs stories. Thoroughly satisfying!
2. Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Kate Atkinson - After reading Atkinson's brilliant Life After Life last year, I knew I had to read her other books. (or at least most of them...I've not much interest in the mysteries) This was her first book...published when she was 40 years old....and it didn't disappoint in the least. Atkinson's writing excites me in a way that no one else has in a very long time.
3. The Absolutist, John Boyne (audio) - While I was listening to this heartbreaking work my mind kept posing a central question. How did I wind up so very liberal when compared with much of my family and the people I grew up with. The answer....at least in part....is literature. I dare anyone to read a book like this without finding compassion in their heart.
4. Billy Lynn's Long Half-time Walk, Ben Fountain - I detest reading about two things - football (ok, sports in general) and modern warfare. However, when I stumbled across this book on the itunes sale page after hearing about it from multiple sources (including an excellent discussion on the Literary Disco podcast), I decided to go for it. I also decided to read it asap so that I didn't lose interest. Wow. The entire book is set during one Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving football game (with a few flashbacks), and focuses on the experiences of an army unit being celebrated for heroic behavior. While no, I didn't exactly find it an enjoyable read, I do appreciate what Fountain accomplished...and what he had to say about the nature of our American culture.
5. Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly (audio) - Believe it or not, this is the first book recommendation from Books On the Nightstand that I ever put in my formal wish list. Why it took me so long to get to it? Good question. It's amazing...especially in audio format. Because it's YA, things do get rather neatly tied up in the end, but I'm not going to criticize that as being too simplistic because Donnelly managed to so perfectly capture the emotional landscape and pain of her main character. I'm going to have my girls read it when they get older. Compassion, people.
6. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce (unfinished) - Just because a book gets a ton of awesome recommendations doesn't mean I'm going to like it! Checked it out from the library, made it just under 1/4 of the way in, was so bored I found myself cringing whenever I sat down to read. Done and done!
7. The Dog Stars, Peter Heller - This has also been on my wish list for quite some time, thanks to BOTNS. I had actually run across a young man reading it at Starbucks a few weeks ago, and had stopped to ask him about it. (Real live people reading = better than a podcast or a website any day!) With that in mind, I jumped into this book as soon as I sat Harold Fry aside....and was immediately blown away by the writing style. Yay! Another 'experimental' storytelling style!!!! We don't normally think of post-apocolyptical books as beautiful, but this one really, truly is. I also have to say that the ending was exactly what I needed.
8. The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern (audio) - When I found this on my library's downloadable audio website, I snapped it up in great delight. Even better...when I started listening I was thrilled to learn that Jim Dale was the reader! Raptures! Magic, pure magic! You might remember that The Night Circus was my best book of 2012. It was due a reread, and the audio - by such a masterful reader - added so much more. Sigh. Comfort reading at it's absolute best!
9. This House is Haunted, John Boyne - Thank You iTunes sale page! Yep, it's a pretty traditional ghost story. Nope, it's not the best one I've ever read. Yep, I have a little bit of trouble with Boyne's main character...he's not nearly as good at creating women as he is men (at least if you compare the two books I read this month). Nope, it really didn't offer anything new to the genre. BUT, it was still fun to read...and that opening sentence was amazing! Hard not to read with that sort of hook!
10. We The Animals, Justin Torres - This was another early BOTNS recommendation that popped up on the iTunes sale page. It's a short book - easily read in about 90 minutes or so - but the depth of it's emotional content is vast indeed. On the surface, it's perhaps another book I shouldn't enjoy, being primarily about three little boys....brothers...and their rather dysfunctional family. Torres is such a skilled writer, though, that he grabbed me by the heart within minutes and never let go. I won't give anything away...but I will say that it's another book that teaches compassion.
11. Snow In Summer, Jane Yolen - OK, I'll confess...I stole this from my daughter's shelf. Jane Yolen is an old favorite of mine, and she never, ever disappoints! Curiously enough, Snow White has never been a fairy tale I've been particularly fond of (and you all know I ADORE fairy tales!) This version changed my mind. It was incredible! Now...do I give it back to my daughter or not......
Harold Fry was not the only book that I started, but did not finish. I didn't make it far enough into the others, though, to officially include them in the list. Rather, I read enough for a wee taste and then cleared them off of my wish list. Notably, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. Yep, I enjoyed the one other book of hers I read, but not so much that I think I want to read everything she writes. Also, I tried it first in audio, and the reader was HORRIBLE. I could not imagine listening to him for 13 hours! Also...The Son by Philipp Meyer. Despite great reviews, and an awesome cast on the audio....I'm just not into Westerns in particular and Texas history in specific. Life is too short!