Monday, December 30, 2013

My favorite books of 2013

For the last couple of years, the end-of-the-year posts about the best books and the reading year in review have been one of my favorite things about blogging. I've seen some wonderful lists in the last week, which have added to my TBR lists and reminded me of books I already own (too many still unread).  Such an amazingly rich variety of books and blogs and readers!

Of course I can't resist adding my own.  So here is my list of favorite books for the year, in the order in which I read them:

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas.  Dumas' masterpiece, the story of Edmund Dantès' escape from the notorious Chateau d'Ilf, to claim a fortune and seek retribution from those who imprisoned him unjustly and stole more than his freedom.

Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton. A story of dragons, in a setting that evokes Anthony Trollope's novels - who could ask for anything better?  I've enjoyed Jo Walton's "Small Change" series, but this is far & away my favorite of her books.

Miss Cayley's Adventures, Grant Allen. A recent graduate of Girton, but with no money and no prospects, Lois Cayley decides on a whim to travel around the world.  She shows great skill and determination in making her way, with each successful adventure funding the next.  A charming and surprising novel from 1899.

Hot Water, P.G. Wodehouse.  I still think this 1932 story, set mainly in a seaside town in Brittany, is the quintessential Wodehouse - without a doubt one of his best.

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson.  I am not surprised that this book has shown up on so many people's lists.  It's an amazing book, a chronicle of a series of lives - of a single person - that take many different courses, all of which end in death and then a return to the moment of birth, setting in train another life.  Hard to describe, impossible to put down.

An Open Book, Monica Dickens.  This was the year I discovered her books, thanks to blog reviews.  My favorite so far is her autobiography, which has at its heart her loving, eccentric family and their home in Bayswater.

The Clever Woman, Charlotte M. Yonge.  This novel addresses the issue of "surplus women" in Victorian society, and while presenting traditional ideas about woman's place, it is surprisingly progressive in other ways, particularly in the inclusion of characters with physical disabilities.

Eighty Days, Matthew Goodman.  Bucking traditional ideas about women's place, not to mention their capabilities, two women set out in 1889, in a race to be the first to circumnavigate the globe.  Goodman's book is not just an account of their different travels, but also a social history of the America they left, and an overview of the world they rushed through.  It inspired me to read Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, and I'm also looking forward to reading the books the travelers themselves published after their race ended.

The Three Miss Kings, Ada Cambridge.  Three sisters in 1880, orphaned at their father's death, use their scant inheritance to travel from their small seaside town to Melbourne.  There they meet a fairy godmother who brings them into society, and each finds love.  I have more of Ada Cambridge's many books lined up for 2014.

Lucy Carmichael, Margaret Kennedy.  A young woman left at the altar finds work and solace for her heart-break at an eccentric art institute.  There is a loving friendship at the heart of this story, and a happy romance at the end.  I also have more of Kennedy's books lined up for the new year.

Raw Material, Dorothy Canfield (Fisher).  A series of vignettes, an interesting and entertaining mixture, from her own life and those of friends and family, set mainly in Vermont and France.  Canfield Fisher wanted to give her readers "a score of instances out of human life, which have long served me as pegs on which to hang the meditations of many different moods."

Book of Ages, Jill Lepore.  This biography of Jane Franklin Mecom, the sister of the great Benjamin, is also a social history of colonial and revolutionary America, particularly the place and roles of women.  And it's an exploration of how fragmentary the historical record - the archives - can be for women, children, people of color, the poor, the uneducated, the marginalized, whose stories are all too easily lost to history.

The Vicar of Bullhampton, Anthony Trollope.  In this under-appreciated novel, Trollope takes on the question of "fallen" women, in a typically complicated plot that also involves a murder trial, a clash over a new Methodist chapel, and a woman who doesn't want to marry the man everyone else keeps telling her she should.

Right now I am reading (for approximately the 43rd time) Jane Austen's Emma, which I probably won't finish this year (Frank Churchill has just oozed into Highbury), but I am going to include it as one of my favorite books, not just of 2013 but of all time.

This has been a rich year of reading, and of sharing books here and on the excellent blogs listed over on the right.  I wish you a Happy New Year - one filled with wonderful books and friends to share them with.


  1. Stupendous list! I completely agree about Tooth and Claw being the best thing Jo Walton has written so far; now that I've read more Trollope, I find myself wanting to go back and read about her Trollope-esque dragons. I've already added many of the other books to my TBR and I'm particularly eager to get my hands on The Three Miss Kings and Lucy Carmichael. And I am, obviously, delighted to hear that you will be seeing out the old year and welcoming in the new in the company of Emma. I could not think of a finer choice. Happy New Year, Lisa!

  2. Oh dear, I've read NONE of these books, though have read plenty of the authors. More to add to my list for next year! I am intrigued by the Atkinson, but might wait til secondhand copies flood charity shops... (and I love 'oozed' as a description of Frank's movements! Would you believe I've only read Emma once??)

  3. Other than Eighty Days :) I haven't read any of these! I think that's what I love most about book blogs... we share the same 'tastes' but not the same old books, so we all always have something to discover. Happy New Year, Lisa! Wishing you another rich year of reading.

  4. Happy New Year, Lisa! I'm pleased to see The Count of Monte Cristo on your list - it's one of my favourite books, as you know. Some of the others have already been added to my TBR after reading your original posts and I'm looking forward to reading them, especially Tooth and Claw which sounds wonderful. I hope you discover lots of great books in 2014!

  5. I love Jo Walton's work but for some reason she is very difficult to get hold of through our library system. 'Tooth and Claw' is one I have yet to catch up with. I must put it on the list for 2014 - a list now so long that it will take until at least 2024 to complete it.

  6. Happy New Year to you all! We still have about four hours to go in 2013, here in Houston.

    Claire, I think you'll appreciate Tooth & Claw even more, now that you've read Framley Parsonage. Google Books has The Three Miss Kings, if you can't find a book copy. I think it would be perfect for Girlebooks!

    Simon, I can believe it, but I don't know about Claire :) Thanks again for including me in "My Life in Books" - definitely a highlight of the blogging year.

    Audrey, I think it's the result of reading what interests us, what we enjoy - that's a common factor with my favorite bloggers. Sometimes that means the new books, and often the older ones - always an interesting mix!

    Helen, I now have a little Dumas section of the TBR shelves! None of them as long as the Comte, though. And I'd kind of like to re-read The Three Musketeers, before I start on their later adventures - there is so much I've forgotten about the original story.

    Alex, it's sort of an Alice-in-Wonderland feeling. I'm reading as fast as I can, but somehow the books pile up even faster.

  7. I see we share a couple of favorites for the year. No surprise, since I do get good suggestions from you--I read Tooth and Claw mostly on your recommendation.

    Sad story about Eighty Days. I got it from the library, but it came due before I got around to reading it. Then the library lost it without checking it in to me. (I remember turning it in.) It took conversations with three different librarians to get it off my record so that I wouldn't have to pay for a new copy. The sad part is that now I associate the book with that bit of exasperation and don't want to read it as much.

    And you do know that Emma is the topic of the 2016 JASNA AGM in DC? Just in case you want to mark your calendar now ;)

  8. Teresa, that's a very sad story about Eighty Days. I worry about that at my branch, where we just leave books to be returned on a counter, where someone else could easily walk off with them. But I hope you'll try it again.

    I am really thinking about the 2016 AGM, since Washington is just about my favorite place to visit - though it's scary how quickly the registration fills up.

  9. Thanks for the heads-up that AGM registration fills quickly. I know it's ages away, but it seems crazy not to go when it's in my backyard. If you go come, we must get together!

  10. I've only read Lucy Carmichael, but that is a fabulous list full of books I want to read. I sat that as a recent convert to the joys of Trollope, and from a pint a little way into The Count of Monte Cristo.

  11. Teresa, I'll count on that! The Society of American Archivists' meeting is in DC this year, but I won't get to go unfortunately.

    Jane, thank you again for introducing me to Lucy Carmichael & Margaret Kennedy! I'm so pleased that you're enjoying Trollope - now there's a rich feast of books. He might tempt you to break your one-book-per-author rule :)

  12. Happy New Year, Lisa! Thanks for all of your wonderful posts last year. I bought a copy of Book of Ages for Christmas and hope to read it either this month or next - I am so looking forward to it. And I am looking forward to seeing what you read in 2014!

  13. Anbolyn, I thought I saw the Lepore book in your tree :) I can't wait to hear what you think of it - and to see what else you read in 2014. I still envy your library access!

  14. Ah, Miss Cayley - what a lady! I'm definitely also going to read The Three Miss Kings this year - it sounds just my cup of tea. What a happy reading year you have had - may 2014 be just as filled with treasures.

  15. Thank you, vicki - I hope yours is as well! Each year I think, maybe I've read all the great books, and it's all downhill from here - and then I discover some amazing new-to-me authors.


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!