Yesterday I posted the honorable mentions (the books I wanted to mention, but didn’t make the top 10 fiction or non-fiction lists). Today I am starting with my favorite fiction books of 2013. Only 3 of these were published this year, but the list is based on the year I read and not the year published. Some years I have had a hard time finding 10 fiction books I really thought were worth listing. This year I have far more that that. Tomorrow I will post the top non-fiction list. These are not in a particular order. The links are to my original reviews.
Absolute Truths by Susan Howatch (and the rest of the Church of England Series) – This series was a great example of the right books coming along at the right time. Adam McHugh and Rhett Smith both recommended them to me and I actually bought the first book in the series over two years ago but never read it. I really cannot remember what brought it back up again this year, but it was just right. The series as a whole is about spiritual growth. These are not perfect Christians, these are real Christians (mostly clergy) that make mistakes, need restoration and continue to grow and fail throughout their lives. The series is set between the 1930s and the 1960s in England with Church of England clergy. It was this series that pushed me toward finding a Spiritual Director of my own this year and I plan on re-reading the series in 2014.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – I have read a few reviews that did not like this book, but only a few. It was the reader’s choice for best book in the UK this year and I think well deserved. Essentially it is a fairy tale book. This one is not as adult oriented as some of Gaiman’s other fairy tales (such as Stardust) but it still struck the right note, doing what a fairy tale is supposed to do. I really don’t know anyone else that is really writing fairy tales in the way that Gaiman does today.
Eleanor & Park and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – Eleanor and Park and also the earlier book Fangirl were surprise books this year. Eleanor and Park I bought on several recommendations and then I picked up Fangirl when it was on sale. Even though Eleanor and Park was published this year and has more word of mouth, I actually liked Fangirl more. Both were excellent book and were well characterized. The books were more about the people than the story, but they were both well worth reading.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – In 2012 I read all of John Green’s books except this one. I saved this one for last because everyone says it is his best book. And they are right. I actually re-read it again in December but never got around to posting a second review. It seems like it would not be a great book (two kids with cancer meet and fall in love) but it is a wonderful book. It seemed much shorter the second time I read it. But I just enjoyed it just as much.
The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick – I read the book after seeing the movie. But the book is way better than the movie, and I really liked the movie. The book is all told as a first person narrative from the perspective of Pat. He seems much crazier in the book than in the movie. But we get not only a better sense of his craziness, but of his healing. I also love that his counselor and the Eagles fans have a much bigger role in the book than in the movie. This is a very funny and deeply touching book. Well worth reading whether you have seen the movie or not.
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy – Cormac McCarthy is one of the best living authors today. But his books are not easy fun reads. They are rough. As John Piper has said (roughly paraphrasing here) Cormac McCarthy is writing as if he lived in the book of Judges and ‘everyone did what is right in their own eyes.’ All The Pretty Horses is the first of a trilogy, but the only one I have read so far. Two teenage boys decide to leave Texas and head to Mexico to see if they can find a life that seems to be disappearing in Texas. In Mexico they find the good (and bad) of the old west that they were looking for. As with all of McCarthy’s books, everything that can go wrong seems to. There are hints of redemption and goodness, but they are always stolen. Every McCarthy I read, I am struck by the sparse beauty of his writing and how disturbing the relatively simple storying end up being. So I tend to read one of his books a year. I anticipate I will read one more in 2014 and likely it will be on my best of 2014 list as well.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett – Ann Patchett is another author that writes beautiful imagery, but she almost the opposite of McCarthy. Her storylines seem to be much darker than McCarthy’s on the face, but she ends up writing about hope and beauty in a way that is unlike anything that comes out of McCarthy. In this book, terrorists take over an embassy (this is based on a real event) and end up taking the whole dinner party hostage. All of the women are released except for the Opera singer. For a very long time (I won’t reveal how long) the hostages and the terrorists live in a strange community together. It is an almost utopia, except that everyone knows it can’t last. This is a beautiful book, tragic, wonderful, but most of all beautiful writing. Well worth reading.
Perelandra (and the rest of the Space Trilogy) by CS Lewis – I have no idea why I never read the Space Trilogy. But I have not read it prior to reading the new CS Lewis bio (or the other bio I read this year.) In addition to this trilogy, I have read a ton of other Lewis this year. But the trilogy was really the most engaging. The three books were totally different and almost felt like they had been written by three different authors. I had a hard time picking between Perelandra and Hideous Strength as my favorite. They were very different books. Perelandra was a retelling of the Adam and Eve and the concept of original sin. It really deals with the sense of myth as a true story and the story of Adam and Eve and original sin is a true story that is conceptually true beyond any history. Hideous Strength is more along the lines of 1984 (actually written before 1984). But still just as engaging and interesting. Just a totally different book.
Wonder by RJ Palacio – Wonder was another surprise book. I tend to not be a huge fan of middle grade books. They tend to not have dense enough storylines to really keep me engaged. But this one is different. Auggie is a 10 year old with some pretty awful medical issues. He has never been well enough to go to school prior to this year. He goes to school and things are both wonderful and horrible for him. His deformities are literally scary enough that small children often cry when they first see him. If it were simply a story of the poor disabled kid and how he finds his way at school it probably would not be worth reading. But it is more than that. This is a nuanced look at how some people have problems and advantages that we will never see. For all of Auggie’s problems, he is also gifted with great parents and a loving sister. And in many ways he is better off than many other characters in the book. This would be a great book to read together with your child and talk about what is really important in life. It is fairly predictable in the end, but the way it gets there is worth reading.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling – This year I went back and re-read books 5 to 7 of the Harry Potter series. I do not think I have read books 6 and 7 more than once and not since they originally came out. It was great to rediscover why this was such a great series. I know Rowling is one of the best selling authors of all time, so this isn’t anything new to say that the series is good. But there is real depth behind these book. They are not just a simple best seller. In twenty-five years, no one will remember Twilight, Dan Brown or 50 Shades of Gray. But I believe that Harry Potter will still be read and loved.