My Top Five Books of the Year Through June (2013)

5 favorites

I’ve read lots of pleasant books this year, books that were well-written, compelling stories with believable characters. But I haven’t read many books that changed my world like I did last year. Nothing that is on the same level as Excellent Women, Death Comes for the Archbishop or The Song of Achilles. Therefore, I found it hard to choose my top five books of the year so far because everything I’ve read has been about on the same level of excellence – everything really good, but not earth shattering for me. So,after much thought and debate, I’ve chosen the following five as my favorites through June. A nice surprise is that I read two of them for my book club.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson“The writing in Life After Life is quite beautiful, the kind of writing that gets to your heart and  makes you think and ponder the purpose of life and the nature of human behavior. I really loved the setting and the time period (England and the early twentieth century) and was mesmerized by the scenes set during the London bombings during World War II. I worried about how Atkinson would finish the novel, but the ending is perfect and complete.”

The Innocents by Francesca Segal ” Francesca Segal has done a marvelous job of transforming Wharton’s tale into a 21st century story of duty vs. desire. The setting is brilliant and utterly fascinating and the characters are all complex and sympathetic.”

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett “I think Ann Patchett created a quiet masterpiece with State of Wonder. I enjoyed it, engaged with it and was emotionally affected by the story more than I have been by a novel in a while. Her writing is understated yet gorgeous and she doesn’t judge her characters – she tells their story and leaves the interpretation to the reader.”

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles “The two best things about this novel are the setting and Katey. Towles conjures the allure of the city with his vibrant descriptions of the buildings, the streets, the nightlife, the energy and bustle. Katey is described with the same enthusiasm. She is smart, funny, clever, sassy and self-reflective. It is a joy to watch her make her way in the world and discover who she wants to be and how she wants to live. She narrates the story and her voice is completely endearing and authentic.”

The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford“Jean Stafford is a vivid storyteller who shows an utter lack of sympathy for her characters that I found disconcerting, but refreshing. Their weakness and folly is harshly paraded before us yet I understood and liked them the better for it. The confusion, bitterness and yearning of adolescence is painfully depicted so that we can identify with Ralph and Molly though we may not want to be in the same room with them.”

These are my five favorites of the 30 books I read during the first half of the year. I can’t wait to discover my favorites of the second half of 2013.

What are your favorites books of 2013 (so far)? Do you have any exciting plans for the weekend?

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett


At the first meeting of my new book club a few weeks ago, we had a riveting and lively discussion about State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. Most of us liked it, one person didn’t very much, but I think we all agreed that it was beautifully written and completely absorbing.

Marina Singh is a scientist who studies statins in a lab in Minnesota. When her co-worker, Anders, dies in the Amazon she is enlisted by both Anders’s wife and her boss (with whom she is having a secret relationship) to travel to Brazil and find out how he died and where he is buried. Anders had been trying to prod Dr. Annick Swenson to complete her research on a new fertility drug she is developing for their company. When Marina arrives at the camp she realizes that the research is disguising Dr. Swenson’s true goals, but she is lulled into complaisance by the freedom of living away from American society and by her relationship with a little boy named Easter who was informally adopted by Dr. Swenson. She quickly becomes comfortable living in the forest with limited modern conveniences and rough living conditions until an unexpected discovery forces her to make a drastic choice.

State of Wonder is an intricate, dynamic story that explores the ethics of invading native cultures for gain, the business of drug development and also touches on issues of aging, friendship, and regret. The story is told from Marina’s viewpoint and we come to know her as an intelligent, thoughtful and searching woman who goes to Brazil at a time when she is questioning her life decisions. She is a passive character without a strong backbone who is a perfect contrast to Dr. Swenson, an extremely steely lady who never questions herself.

The pacing is quite slow and this was a problem for several people in my book group. It is definitely not plot driven and there are many long descriptive passages and large chunks when nothing seems to happen. I really like this style and prefer a more leisurely narrative so I connected with the book in a way that some of my friends didn’t. I admire authors who can sustain my interest without constantly throwing twists and shocks into the story.

I think Ann Patchett created a quiet masterpiece with State of Wonder. I enjoyed it, engaged with it and was emotionally affected by the story more than I have been by a novel in a while. Her writing is understated yet gorgeous and she doesn’t judge her characters – she tells their story and leaves the interpretation to the reader.

I’ve loved both Patchett books I’ve read (the other was Truth and Beauty) and will read more of her novels this year. Have you read her books? Which would you recommend I read next?