write meg!’s 2012 reading honors

reading honors


Happy day-after-Christmas, everyone! Hard to believe we’re here again, glancing over our shoulders at another year of living, loving, eating — and reading. Though 2012 proved to be a slower reading year for me, completing 71 books to last year’s 82, I found myself really enjoying what I was reading — and focused on branching out.

That meant I discovered some narrative non-fiction for the first time in my adult reading life, and I challenged myself to step out of my chick lit box. That’s not to say I don’t still love women’s fic — trust me, I do — but I also enjoyed the change of pace that biographies offered me.

Audio books were my good buddies this year, too. Since discovering the joys of being read to (you know, elementary-school style), I’m rarely without an audio book on my drives around town. Since my music is all stale and boring and blah, it’s great having something to keep my attention when I’m running errands. And now I feel less annoyed about having to go get diet soda from the grocery store again.

Last year’s reading honors celebrated literary fiction, young adult and more — and at the end of my post, I hoped 2012 would find me continuing “all the things I hold dear: excellent literature; prose that stops me dead in my well-worn tracks; journeys to new places, continents and cultures. I hope to read more non-fiction in the coming months, especially about American history, and to get excited about women’s fiction again. On the personal writing front, I hope to finish another novel by the spring and to continue making creative writing a priority in my own life.”

With the exception of that last bit (I’m severely slacking on the novel-writing front), I’m going to stamp a big ol’ mission accomplished. Feels good.

In the coming year, I’m going to be realistic: as Spencer and I get rolling on our wedding plans and my sister prepares for her nuptials, too, much of my free time will be consumed with bridal-related excitement. And that’s okay. Reading (and blogging!) are meant to be fun; I just can’t stress over my reading pace. I’m never without a book, so that won’t change — but I have to figure I won’t get through as many novels as before. I’ll likely have to be choosier with what I pick up and review, so that should be an interesting challenge.

But on to the best of the year! What makes a book end-of-the-year-recap worthy? How do I whittle 71 books down to the cream of the bookish crop? I ask myself a few important questions: months after finishing, am I still thinking about it? Can I recall details, characters, settings? Did it spoil me for other books? Am I grateful — maybe changed — for having read it?

If the answer is yes, you’ll find it below. And what a fun reflection it’s been.


Meg’s Top Five Reads of 2012

1. Girl Unmoored by Jennifer Gooch Hummer

My foray into young adult literature was limited this year, but I’m so incredibly glad I didn’t miss out in this one. You’re probably sick of me talking about it, but hopefully my constant chatter has convinced you to pick it up. I’m serious: it’s moving and funny and unforgettable. Hummer is a true talent, and this book was a life-changer for me. If I’ve talked you into picking up one book from write meg!, I hope it’s this one. You won’t regret it — and that’s why it’s in my No. 1 spot.


2. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Read in the summer, Beautiful Ruins is just the sort of book that lodges in your brain and refuses to leave. Though I always picture a scene while reading, this book inspired full-blown movies in my mind — which works well, considering it’s partially about movies. It’s gorgeous, lush, vivid — and filled with incredibly memorable, endearing characters. Plus, it’s set in Italy — and Elizabeth Taylor is a quasi-character. I described it as “spellbinding” back in June, and you know what? I’m a smart lady. Spellbinding only begins to cover it.


3. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Surprising, heart-wrenching and utterly lovely, I didn’t go into Harold expecting to come out a tearful, washed-up mess — but Joyce’s unforgettable language rendered me speechless. The tale of a middle-aged man who traverses the whole of England on foot in his own way of reconciling the past “took me by surprise,” if I may quote myself, and it was literary without being dull. For a book with a simple premise, it was incredible.


4. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

February and March were spent with Isaacson’s epic tome on the life and death of Steve Jobs, an iconic American visionary. Though I went into the book with little knowledge of Jobs’ life, I now consider myself well-versed in Jobs-ology. Accessible, detailed and compelling, Steve Jobs packs a mighty punch. And if I got a little mired down in the details at points, I’d expect nothing less from a book on such an influential, exacting man.


5. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Never have I loved and hated a character so completely and simultaneously. Young heroine Victoria’s story was engrossing, though difficult at many points — but I was completely addicted to this book. As we teetered toward the story’s conclusion, I didn’t want it to end. Plus? I feel quite comfortable with the Victorian language of flowers now. Sometimes a rose isn’t just a rose.


Most Delicious

Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas

Macarons, pies, cupcakes — and more! Thomas’ sweet, frothy recollections of her year in Paris working for Louis Vuitton is a treat for armchair travelers and foodies alike. Though the narrative itself could have used a little more meat, Thomas’ memoir was a fun and delicious read — and one that has me desperate to book a flight to France tomorrow.


Most Inspiring

Heaven Is Here by Stephanie Nielson

To know Stephanie Nielson is to love her. After surviving a small plane crash that left she and her beloved husband badly burned and broken, Stephanie works tirelessly to keep her family together — and to find a way to be happy again. Told with endless faith, her memoir is raw and realistic. Though Stephanie herself seems perennially upbeat, she doesn’t hesitate to discuss the depression, fear and emptiness that threatened to overtake her after waking from a coma. I’ve followed her blog for a while, and her story is incredible.


Packing the Sultriest Punch

History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason

Um . . . is it hot in here, or is it just History of a Pleasure Seeker? Mason’s tale of a social-climber in belle époque Amsterdam is sexy, literary, lovely. The author’s language captured me from page one and refused to let go. In January, I wrote the novel is “lush, sensuous and finely-wrought story of how, through charisma and seduction, one man is able to change an entire family and free them from their stuffy, well-made cages.” And it’s definitely one that stays on the brain.


Most Inspiring of Hepburn Nostalgia

Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. by Sam Wasson

Wasson’s ode to the power of “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” made me want to don pearls and parade through New York City. Not that, you know, I wouldn’t do that on a normal day. But choosing to read Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. on my way back from a sisters trip to the big city in May elevated the story to magical status. It was informational, entertaining and fun.


Other books I loved in 2012: FaithBridge of Scarlet LeavesWife 22We’ll Always Have SummerI Never Promised You a Goodie Bag


See past reading honors: 2011201020092008


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Life in literature


Though it’s only September, I’m already thinking about how I’ve spent 2012. Fall lends itself to those sorts of musings, I think — especially when I have a pumpkin spice latte in hand (will be getting one of those later today, have no fear). And since I’m never without a book, that introspection means I’m thinking about reading.

Everyone had fun with this bookish meme earlier in the summer but, as always, I’m behind the times! To complete the thoughts, I used only the books I’ve read in 2012 — and pulled the prompts from Wordsmithonia and Roof Beam Reader.

And yes, I’m totally Bossypants. Could be my middle name.


Describe myself:
Bossypants

How do I feel:
Beautiful Ruins

Describe where I currently live:
The World We Found

If I could go anywhere, where I would go:
Across The Universe

My favorite form of transportation:
Bridge of Scarlet Leaves

My best friend(s) is/are:
Where We Belong

My friends and I are:
Gossip

What’s the weather like:
We’ll Always Have Summer

Favorite time of day:
Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.

What is life to you:
An Object of Beauty

You fear:
Unfamiliar Fishes

What is the best advice you have to give:
How To Eat A Cupcake

Thought for the day:
Heaven Is Here

How I would like to die:
Birthday Pie

My soul’s present condition:
The Secret of Joy


Book review: ‘Beautiful Ruins’ by Jess Walter

When the beautiful Dee Moray first steps off a boat and into his isolated world, Pasquale Tursi
is a young man with dreams of putting his small Italian village on the map. He’ll build a tennis court on a cliff, he imagines; he’ll improve his family’s aging hotel, bringing Americans and their fat pocketbooks to Porto Vergogna. Dee appears like a phantom, the manifestation of everything he so desperately wants: love, security and beauty in the ruins. It’s 1962, and Pasquale will do anything to make her happy.

Decades later and a world away in L.A., disillusioned filmmaker Claire Silver is waiting for something to move her. Stuck in a boring relationship and feeling utterly stagnant, Claire logs long hours working for Hollywood legend Michael Deane, a man never afraid to call in a favor, and the pair are seeking redemption through whatever means necessary. When an aging Pasquale Tursi shows up at their door, calling in a favor himself, everyone’s life is turned upside down . . . before it’s righted again.

Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins is spellbinding. Readers searching for something to sweep them up and out to sea need look no further than the author’s latest, and I can promise you the plot is every bit as delicious and enticing as the lush cover photo suggests.

Fluctuating between the making of the Liz Taylor and Richard Burton classic “Cleopatra” in Italy and present-day Los Angeles, Walter introduces a cast of unforgettable characters. Though I was innately more interested in the scenes from 1962 than the modern plotline, both were crucial to Walter’s story of love lost and found — and honor redeemed. Pasquale is a hopelessly endearing character — someone you want to hug and help. Naive, lovely actress Dee entrances him immediately, but it’s hard to tell if it’s Dee that effortlessly captures his heart . . . or the idea of what she could finally bring to his colorless life.

You know how sometimes you’re reading, grow bored and just skim a bunch of paragraphs . . . only to realize you’ve missed absolutely nothing? I hate that. And Beautiful Ruins is the opposite of that reading experience. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it masterpiece of many intricate stories, and the setting made me feel like I could step in and share a glass of wine with the motley Italian crew. Even Michael Deane, a selfish baffoon who royally screws up others’ lives, manages to somehow seem likeable.

The book’s story-within-a-story quality completely sucked me in, too. Beyond the fate of the principle characters, we’re given the movie treatment of a heartwarming tale of . . . cannibalism. (Yes: cannibalism.) And somehow it still sounded like a moving, captivating film I might want to see. Honestly.

Readers craving a vibrant story offering glimpses at old Hollywood, the Italian seaside, the effects of war on the innocent and the bonds (and sacrifices) of love need only grab Beautiful Ruins. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year (adding to this list!) and one that certainly deserves a spot in your beach bag.


5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0061928127 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review