1. The Law of Dreams, Peter Behrens - I wanted something Irish this month, and I got it. Behrens came to my attention shortly after I started listening to Books on the Nightstand, and thanks to the popular sale page on iTunes I finally picked it up a month or so ago. This is not a book for the faint of heart. Set in the Irish famine and subsequent immigration, it's tragic, violent, brutal and heartbreaking. It's also a lovely, lovely book with some of the most beautifully written prose I've come across in quite some time. Behrens has a second book based on the Irish experience....I don't know that I will ever read it.
2. Shadow Magic, Patricia C. Wrede - It pains me to say this. I adore Wrede. In fact, her books are amongst my favorite YA fantasy novels, and I've reread two of her series multiple times. But. I could not get through this book. It just didn't seem to have the spark that her books normally have, although most of the elements were certainly in place. (Plucky heroines are Wrede's specialty.) Perhaps it just felt too...too done before...too typical of fantasy....too uneventful...too stock character...too common. I'm going to try to read it at a later date and see if a fresh approach changes my mind.
3. The Paleo Approach, Sarah Ballantyne - Ballantyne is the author of my favorite paleo blog, www.thepaleomom.com As a research scientist, she has the gift of explaining the science behind health and diet in a way that is both incredibly detailed and approachable. Ballantyne's specialty in the paleo world is autoimmune disease, which is the specific focus of her book. Autoimmune diseases have been approached in at least three other paleo books I've read, but generally they only get about 2-3 pages. Ballantyne's book weighs in at over 1,000 pages. I will admit, I did skim through the early, heavily scientific chapters. (Which were almost more than I could understand.) However, this was still one of the most amazing health books I've ever read, and I cannot recommend it enough.
4. Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott - I adore this book more than I can possibly say. A big thank you to my writing partner for recommending it! Bird By Bird is Lamott's book on the writing process, and I found it best to read in small chunks - a chapter or two at a time - so that I could fully digest and ponder the content. (Still have a bit to finish, but as the bulk of it was read this month, it goes on this list!)
5. Hollow City, Ransom Riggs - The sequel to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. I still love the concept, and I still love the crazy vintage photographs. Not going to lie, though, this was not even remotely as much fun as the first book. It was much more serious, and included considerably more doom and gloom. I'm actually annoyed that there's a third book coming. Enough already. Bummer.
6. The Crystal City, Orson Scott Card (audio) - A while back I listened to the first five books in the Alvin Maker series - thank you library - and enjoyed them. At the time, the library didn't have this final book, so I was pretty excited when I discovered that they'd added it to the catalog. So here's the deal...When I finished the first five I did a bit of research and discovered that Card had loosely based Alvin Maker on Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church. I found this fascinating ( I belong to a church that shares roots with the LDS church), and particularly enjoyed reading a few academic papers I found online that trace the books' connection to Joseph Smith. With all of this in mind, I really thought I would enjoy returning to Card's magical version of early America. Oddly enough, though, I listened to a few hours and discovered I no longer cared. Didn't bother finishing it. Last fall I read a biography of Joseph Smith's wife, Emma, and perhaps that was part of my issue. There was a lot of sadness in their early marriage - separation, loss of children - and those things were reflected in The Crystal City. Also...because of that history, the tone of this book was darker, more sad, not as charming. Must admit, the quaint Americana style which charmed me through the first five books came across as hokey this time. Drat.
7. Life After Life, Jill McCorkle - In one of those curious cases, this book came out at the same time as Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, and in fact both books were discussed on the same episode of Books on the Nightstand. I finally picked it up because it was available through my library's downloadable services. It's a lovely book in so many ways - beautiful language, well-drawn characters, grand themes, etc....but it's also a book that leaves a mountain of loose ends, which drives me crazy. There are a lot of people who will say, 'yes, but life is often like that...we don't always get everything wrapped up with a neat little bow.' Darn it, though, I need resolution in the books I read. It particularly reminds me of In The House Of Gentle Men, another book that I adored until the end - at which point I felt cheated. (Both also have major crimes occur at the last minute which the authors let the perpetrators get away with. It bugs me. A lot.) In a single word...irritating.
8. Bleak House, Charles Dickens (audio - Craftlit) - I've listened to this before, and I adore it. As the most Dickensian of Dickens novels, it is always a treat! Heather Ordover is producing it as bonus content for subscribers, and as always I find her commentary insightful and helpful. It's a doozy...40+ hours of audio with the commentary...so I was not able to finish it all this month. (And indeed, Ordover hasn't finished all of the episodes yet). As with Lamott's book, it fits in with this month because this is when I read the bulk of it.
9. Alena, Rachel Pastan - WOW! Alena was inspired by Daphne de Maurier's Rebecca, which I really must read. (It has shown up in Sooooo many of the book recommendation lists that I'm a bit shocked I haven't read it yet.) Alena was recommended by NPR, and I am so very glad I read it. The language is gorgeous, the characters are memorable, and the art....oh the art is rich and beautiful. This is an example of a book being somewhat light on plot...but you really don't care because the characters and atmosphere are so very wonderful. The problem with finishing it? Now I feel a need to tour as many museums as I can possibly find asap.
10. The Wife, the Mistress and the Maid, Ariel Lawhon (audio) - This is Lawhon's take on the infamous disappearance of Judge Joe Crater in the 1930s, as told through the perspective of three women in his life. In this fictional version, those women know more about what happened than anyone thinks. The audio was fun, with my only quibble being that the female reader's male voices were a bit odd.
11. Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell - This book landed on many, many 'Best of 2013' lists, and also came recommended by friends. It's YA...and it's an example of very beautifully written YA. Eleanor & Park is the story of a first love, and my goodness...I wasn't quite expecting to become so very emotionally invested in the book. The book left me feeling nostalgic, and also profoundly grateful that my own memories of first love are so very sweet.
12. The Incrementalists, Steven Brust and Skyler White - I have a particular soft spot in my heart for Steven Brust as he was my entry point into fantasy and scifi back in college. I picked this up on a whim when I stumbled across it while browsing books online, and I really enjoyed it. It's not quite as much fun as his other collaborative work - Freedom & Necessity, with Emma Bull - and it doesn't quite reach the heights of my personal Brust favorite, Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grill, but it was a rollicking good time anyway!