Best reading of 2012 — so far

As I’ve documented, I am a list-maker. My daily work obligations are now listed in handy list format — the better for me to complete and cross them off, of course. Being as I’m always on deadline, my lists are crucial to my getting everything done before my coworkers shout at me for holding up the presses. (That’s never happened, but I think it would be sort of cool — in a cinematic way.)

Given my penchant for organization and crossing things off, I’ve compiled a list of my best reads of 2012 — so far. It’s scary to think we’re six months into the year, friends, and I get itchy thinking about the passage of time. But we’re almost exactly halfway through 2012 (or has that already passed? Math is not my BFF), it’s time to reflect on the 33 books I’ve read since January. And choose some of the best — because I play favorites.

write meg!’s Four Favorite Books
of 2012 (so far)

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

Okay, so here’s the thing: despite having read and adored this book, I’ve never reviewed Silver Sparrow. And I feel really, really guilty about it — mostly because it is so moving, realistic, unique and heartbreaking that I wish everyone had a copy. On the shortlist for the Indie Lit Awards, I picked it up in March and figured I’d wait to write my review until the awards had been announced (and it won!). Then a month went by . . . then two . . . and now I’m sitting here like a dummy, wondering why I never made the time to post about it.

So here I am, posting. Telling you. Imploring you. If you’re looking for an addictive read about family, change, love and class, Jones offers all that and more in one stunning package. Plus, now it’s out in paperback. So you really don’t have an excuse, do you?

Girl Unmoored by Jennifer Gooch Hummer (my review)

Oh, I loved this book. It earned one of my elusive five-star ratings back in April, one of my best reading months ever (10 books!). Apron is an unforgettable narrator who seems to bump into you at the grocery store, at the library, out at restaurants — everywhere, really, because she’s so funny and sad and awesome that you want to squeeze her . . . and therefore look for Apron everywhere you go.

If this book wasn’t already on your radar, consider this your not-so-gentle nudge. It’s been a while since I read a story so simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, and I don’t think you’ll regret a second you spend in Miss Bramhall’s company. Kudos to the lovely Jennifer Gooch Hummer, an author with whom I’d love to sip root beer floats and muse about life. She’s awesome.

History Of A Pleasure Seeker
by Richard Mason
(my review)

Ack, this novel. It was sexy. It was unnerving. It was riveting and different and atmospheric, ripe with intrigue and fantastic settings and a charismatic, utterly narcissistic lead who still manages to seem human and endearing when it’s most needed. I sung this one’s praises back in January, and I can still recall certain turns of phrase six months later. That’s the mark of a great read — and a great writer.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (my review)

Having spent nearly a month listening to Steve Jobs’ biography on audio, I felt like I got to know the man well through Isaacson’s meticulously researched, thought-provoking account of the trailblazer’s story. I was sad when it ended (and how it ended, of course, but c’est la vie) and felt like I’d been on an odyssey.

When the review was Freshly Pressed by WordPress and featured on its main page, the comments and emails came pouring in — some kind, some not so much. One visitor’s response is probably my favorite personal insult of all time: Her [mine, that is] artistic intelligence is exactly why we need more math and science in schools. (Um, wow.) Some accused me of coming “too late” to the Apple game, being some insipid follower who only “discovered” the brand after iPods began hitting college campuses in the early ’00s.

To which I say: yep. That’s pretty much what happened.

And by the way, that was a book review. Not a character assassination.

That review and its backlash/response taught me quite a few things about blogging and life, but that’s another post. The point is this: if you’re even vaguely interested in the trials, triumphs and joys of Steve Jobs, Isaacson’s biography is a must read. While I got bogged down in the minutiae of Apple’s rise to success, it was Jobs the man who kept me captivated through 20-some discs of his life story.

Book review: ‘Wildflower Hill’ by Kimberley Freeman

Life is hard for Beattie Blaxland, a young Scottish woman struggling to help her family make ends meet in Glasgow. It’s 1929 and everyone is struggling to stay afloat, clutching tightly to their meager wages and stretching them as far as they can. Beattie tries to help her parents by working at a restaurant, and this is where she meets Henry. His marital status doesn’t keep him from flirting with pretty young Beattie, an innocent girl with hopes for the future. Their flirtation eventually leads to clandestine trysts, contact Beattie uses as an escape from her troubled home life. Though she knows it’s wrong, the affair still feels good — until Beattie discovers she’s pregnant.

Disowned by her mother and exiled from the house, Beattie eventually tells Henry about her condition — and the response isn’t positive. Beattie is encouraged by a friend to escape to a country home for women “in her way” until the baby is born. Devastated at having lost both her parents and Henry in one fell swoop, Beattie is shocked to find Henry arriving at the group home with plans for an escape to Tasmania. He’s left his stubborn old mule of a wife, he tells her, and wants to start over. Start over with Beattie and their child.

Life in Tasmania is no cake walk, and Henry soon spends his slight wages on drink rather than food for she and Lucy, their infant daughter. Left to her own devices once again, Beattie tries to turn over a new leaf elsewhere in the country. Through happenstance she discovers Wildflower Hill, a country estate run by a lecherous rich Englishman, and it’s there that her story — and the later story of Emma, her granddaughter — is born.

Kimberley Freeman’s Wildflower Hill is one of the most enchanting, engrossing and poignant novels I’ve read in a long time. It was so absorbing that I tackled all 544 pages over a few days, reading as much of Emma and Beattie’s story as I could between pesky obligations like work and sleep. Freeman enchanted me with her stories of life in Scotland, Australia and Tasmania, and I was truly sad when I turned the last page. I could have read 500 more.

Wildflower Hill spans three generations of women as it fluctuates between Beattie’s third-person past and Emma’s firsthand accounts of life as a prima ballerina in modern-day London, followed by her unexpected return to Sydney and Wildflower Hill Beattie once called home. There’s so much happening here — so very much — but I never once felt bogged down or frustrated with the novel. The pacing is such that you feel as if you’re on a gripping rollercoaster, gliding from one plot point to another.

I’ll admit to taking more of a shine to Beattie than Emma, who initially comes across as a spoiled snot, but the beauty of Wildflower Hill stems from how well I knew these characters by the book’s close. Beattie is an extraordinary woman who spins wheat into gold with nothing more than her two hands and honest ingenuity, and my heart genuinely broke for her at each tragic turn in her life. Despite the weight of the cards stacked against her, Beattie perseveres and finds success. She’s a role model for Emma, who wants nothing more than to dance, and it’s through Beattie’s life and past that Emma finds the will to move forward after a career-ending injury.

The book is stitched together with secrets and mysteries, including what happens to Lucy and how Beattie eventually triumphs over her poverty-stricken existence. Freeman masterfully builds suspense by revealing just enough of the past to keep us intrigued, and we often know things about Beattie’s life far before her granddaughter does. I loved the switches between past and present, highlighting the ways this grandmother and granddaughter were alike — and different.

And the settings. Oh, the settings! Urban Scotland and the wilds of Tasmania! The nasty countryfolk who couldn’t accept an unwed mother and the philandering boyfriend who couldn’t appreciate a good thing — Emma — when he saw it! And all this is to say nothing of the romances building slowly and erupting in both past and present, making me swoon with every page. And cry, too.

By now, I’m guessing you figured out I absolutely loved this book. It had everything I crave in a story: the perfect blend of historical and contemporary fiction; family dynamics; epic romance; enough mystery and intrigue to keep me reading frantically; a wham-BANG! of an ending that had tears rolling down my cheeks. Don’t let the book’s size deter you: this was the most fun I’ve had with a book in a long, long time. Fans of contemporary and women’s fiction will delight in this modern-day The Thornbirds, a novel rivaling  this one in terms of scope and family drama (but with a happier ending).

It’s an instant favorite. Don’t miss it.

5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1451623496 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review

BBAW: Forgotten Treasures – ‘The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets’

In keeping with our Book Blogger Appreciation Week festivities through Friday, today’s prompt asks us to mention a book we feel hasn’t gotten the exposure it ought — whether it be a classic, should-have-read-in-school novel or contemporary fiction that hasn’t found the audience it deserves.

So I’m going to tell you about a book, y’all.

It’s not that you haven’t heard me wax on ad nauseum about this one before. Eva Rice’s The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets was one of my favorite reads of 2009, and easily wormed its way into my heart and mind, practically ruining me for other books.

As I said in my review last December,

No novel in recent memory has enchanted me more than Eva Rice’s The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets. In fact, it’s going to be hard to even try and review it objectively — I just thought it was that magical, exciting, and engrossing, and if I could build a time machine and travel back to a time in which I hadn’t read this book, I’d be packing my suitcase and returning to last week, friends — let’s experience this novel all over again!

It’s the story of Penelope Wallace, a young woman growing up in post-war London who struggles mightly under the shadow of her beautiful mother — a woman who once knew the world was her oyster. After her father’s death in the war, Talitha retreats further into herself while her eccentricities compound. Never feeling good enough to impress her mother, Penelope loses herself in the music of Johnnie Ray, an American rock singer, as their once-immaculate, now-crumbling home disintegrates around them.

Penelope is waiting for a bus the day she meets Charlotte Ferris, a charismatic teen who immediately befriends Penelope and drags her to tea with her Aunt Clare. It’s there that’s introduced to an entirely new world: one of wealth, boredom and, as she meets Harry, Charlotte’s brother, infatuation. And maybe love.

Anything I crave in a novel was here — in spades. Dynamic, interesting and well-developed characters. Romance and a male lead with whom I became completely enamored, even if he was a little . . . unusual. Gorgeous, lush and inviting scenery — and Milton Magna, their old castle, which had a life of its own (and happened to be in England, my favorite place). A fast-paced, emotional plot that kept me engaged from page one. Realistic, funny dialogue. A love affair with music and devotion to a singer with which I could immediately and directly relate.

Yes, friends, The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets was phenomenal. Through everything, I think of it as “my book” — and just yesterday, I got a new comment on my review from someone who felt the same way. I’m not one to brag, but I’ve converted a few folks on this one — including Emily from Emily And Her Little Pink Notes, and my baby sister.

I don’t know if it’s a book for everyone, but it was definitely a book for me. In fact, if ever I felt like a novel had been written with my specific interests in mind, it’s Eva Rice’s. If it sounds like there’s something here for you, please don’t hesitate to pick it up. Though I was initially drawn in by the cover, it’s what happened between the pages that kept me captivated and gushing about it . . . all these months later.

Check out more reviews on LibraryThing and Goodreads, then add it to your wishlist. If you’re completely captivated and have to have it now, add it to your cart at the Book Depository (free shipping!), Amazon (where it’s currently bargain priced at $4.48!), Powell’s or indiebound.

Booking Through Thursday: Stick with me

booking_through_thursLet’s go Booking Through Thursday, shall we?

“This can be a quick one. Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.”

Okay . . . this is tough. I’m not even going to say that these books are necessarily my favorites, but they’re all very unforgettable in their own way — either for what they made me feel, how they made me think, what they changed about me as a reader. Some of them were my first “real” experiences with literature as a young adult . . . some just reawakened my obsession with a great story — and a great literary hero or heroine.

15 books that will stick with me forever

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
A Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
Belong To Me by Marisa de los Santos
The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
American Pastoral by Philip Roth
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech