July 8, 2014 | 2:25 pm
By Joanna Cabot
I posted last month about three very different booklists you could start your summer reading with. Now, the ladies at Book Riot are back from vacation with their own list of best books of the year (so far).
I am always intrigued by what those guys are reading, but I always hesitate to chime in with my own best reads because I don’t read only new releases. My best books of the year are the best books I personally have read this year, not the best books which actually were released this year!
But I have found the quality of my book picks this year to be unusually high, so I thought I would round the booklist options here at Teleread up to an even five and present my own Best Reads of the Year (So Far). Ready?
1) Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda. This was one of those books that transports you to another time and place. It’s about an Indian mother who is forced to secretly give away her newborn daughter, who is them adopted by an American woman married to an Indian man. The novel then follows both mothers—Kavita in India as she goes on to finally have the culturally longed-for son (and to mourn the daughter she lost) and Somer, who copes with the culture clashes of living in her husband and daughter’s Indian world.
2) The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. I reviewed this book way back in February, and it remains one of my favourite books of the year, perhaps ever. It’s a magical, creative story which finds the two title characters stranded together in turn-of-the-century New York City. Each sets out to find themselves a new master, and each then finds the other and recognizes that spark of non-earthliness they too possess. Their unlikely friendship, and the unravelling of a mystery regarding how the Jinni got where he is, fuel the rest of the story.
3) What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander. I don’t always go for short stories, but this Jewish-themed collection introduced me to an author whose other works I am now exploring. The title story finds two Holocaust-obsessed couples playing a macabre game where they ponder who would hide them during a war. Other stories deal with similarly thought-provoking issues.
4) Whatever You Do, Don’t Run by Peter Allison. Allison relates, with humour and a little bawdiness, his exploits as a safari guide in Botswana. The guiding principal of life amongst wild animals is ‘only food runs,’ and he spins some amusing yarns from there about the encounters he and his guests had with them. The Kindle version I had was a mess of typos and OCR issues, but an ePub edition from the library was clean, so try a sample first if this book interests you and make sure you are getting a readable copy.
5) Still Alice by Lisa Genova. This well-written novel follows a Harvard professor who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. What set it apart for me was the way it stayed in narrator Alice’s head even as her mental function gets increasingly compromised. A few minor edits might have made the book a tiny bit better, but this bit of artistry more than made up for any flaws. It was a fascinating story.
6) Identical Strangers by Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein. I broke my no-spending rule for this book, a somewhat over-priced but compelling true story of twin sisters who were adopted separately at birth and find each other as adults. As they research their background, they discover that they were actually separated on purpose, as part of a research study which may have been exploring the genetic heritability of mental illness. Bernstein and Schein spend a little too much time quoting from another book on this topic which I happened to have already read, but the story of their later-in-life reunification is a good one, and they ably handled both the high points and low points of their discovery and its aftermath.
7) The List by Siobhan Vivian. This YA novel came highly recommended, and with an intriguing premise: every year at a certain high school, a list is posted where one girl from each grade is chosen as prettiest and another is chosen as ugliest. Nobody knows who writes the list or how the girls get chosen. The book follows the eight chosen girls one year, and details how their lives change in the aftermath.
8) Dances with Wolves by Michael Blake. An anniversary edition of this oldie-but-goodie showed up at my public library, and I picked it up on a whim and then couldn’t stop reading. This generally under-rated book offers an intriguing glimpse into the life of the Comanche before their way of life was destroyed by the ‘taming’ on the frontier. Blake deftly sidesteps some potential political correctness land mines and tells a respectful, beautifully written story.
9) Upstairs at the White House by J.B. West. Mr, West was chief usher of the White House, beginning with Roosevelt and ending just after the election of Nixon. His main job functions revolved around the office of the first lady, and he crafts well-rounded yet respectful portraits of the ladies he dealt with. Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Kennedy come off as real characters, and the Trumans as homebodies and perhaps the nicest pair. This was a fascinating behind-the-scenes sort of book and inspired me to read more about the White House and its occupants.
10) A Night to Remember by Walter Lord. Finishing the list with another oldie-but-goodie. This classic reconstruction of the events leading up to the sinking of the Titanic reads like a novel, with fully drawn characters and immersive historical detail. I was, of course familiar with the story already. But I was pleased to hear that this book, which I picked up last year in a Kindle Daily Deal, has held up as a historical document too, and it still considered an accurate and well-researched account.
So those are my top reads of the year so far. Any recommendations for the latter half of 2014?