The Books of 2013

Open Book

It’s time for all the “best books of the year” lists to appear. Publishers Weekly, NPR, Washington Post, New York Times Book Review, Oprah Magazine, Shelf Awareness, Good Reads: everyone has an opinion and a wealth of good information to back it up.

I love this time of year because it gives me the opportunity to do two things. First and foremost, it reminds me to get some of those didn’t-quite-get-around-to-them titles onto my don’t-forget-to-read-this list before they disappear permanently into the ether of my memory. (Here’s a confession: I’m pushing hard at fifty years old and to-do lists are integral to my remembering anything these days. Other women of a similar age know exactly what I’m talking about.)

It turns out that I didn’t do too badly on the reading front this year; there are only five books left on my 2013 Heidi-you-must-read-this list. So now I’m hoofing at the bit (as my father used to say) to get to these titles:

  • Fever, by Mary Beth Keane—This novel combines 19th Century medical history and a fictional account of Typhoid Mary. Oh, yes!


  • Mrs. Poe, by Lynn Cullen—This has gotten mixed reviews, but it’s about Edgar Allen Poe and his possible affair with the poet Frances Sargent Osgood, so it’s pretty much a must-read.


  • A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan—Imagine an alternate history of modern science and the Victorian Age that also includes dragons. Maybe I’d better read this one as a palate cleanser between Fever and Mrs. Poe.


  • Red Moon, by Benjamin Percy—This is the one werewolf thriller that I didn’t get to this year, and I hear it’s amazing.


  • Purgatory, by Ken Bruen—I’ve been reading the Jack Taylor mysteries for years (love them!) and this one is supposed to be the best of all.


The other reason I like this time of year is because all those “best books” lists give me the opportunity to mentally bask once more in the titles that were my favorites. Dun, dun, dun, dun (that was a drum roll)… Heidi’s Favorite Books of 2013:

Cinnamon and Gunpowder
By: Eli Brown

Cinnamon and GunpowderI’ve mentioned before that I’m not fond of the title of this book, but I’m so glad that I didn’t let it dissuade me from reading this just-about-perfect novel. Set in 1819, at the height of the opium/spice/tea trade, the notorious pirate, Mad Hannah Mabbot, kidnaps a chef and forces him to cook for her on board her ship. This improbable beginning sets the reader and the poor chef, Owen, on a seafaring adventure that builds in surprising ways, until what at first seemed like a straightforward pirate story, becomes a particularly fine study in what makes people behave the way they do, and how sitting down to eat together can bridge the widest gaps. Eli Brown’s prose is some of the most delicious I’ve read in ages and, when he is describing spices and cooking, it is downright decadent. I loved this novel!


Life After Life
By: Kate Atkinson

Life After LifeThis amazing novel has ended up on a lot of 2013’s best books lists, the reviews often opening with the question, “If you could go back in time and kill Hitler, would you?” In my mind, that’s not the most compelling question in this book. The central question is, “If you could change the course of world history in order to protect your loved ones, would you try?”

Ursula Todd is born and quickly dies in the first pages of this beautiful read. Then she is reborn. And dies. And is reborn, again and again, into the same body and life, as she tries to rearrange events to protect herself and the ones she loves. The plot is brilliantly crafted, layer upon layer, lifetime upon lifetime, like a crazy game of Jenga. Pull out the wrong piece and it all goes tumbling down… except then it magically starts over again. This is an amazing piece of writing.


Dog Stars
By: Peter Heller

Dog StarsThis was a title from my end-of-2012 don’t-forget-to-read-this list, so you won’t see it on anyone else’s Best of 2013. I’m a year late, but I am SO glad I kept it on my list! If you’ve read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or you’re working on Justin Cronin’s Passage trilogy, you might consider yourself done with post-apocalyptic fiction. But where the world of The Road is a bleak and bitterly cold walk toward an equally bleak and bitter end, and Cronin’s world is full of super-monsters, Dog Stars is a stunningly poetic examination of the human spirit in the midst of savage loss, violence and deprivation. Protagonist “Big Hig” is a soulful man who seeks out beauty and human connection in his ravaged world. His is more than a fight to survive; it is a fight to experience kindness, nature, love, poetry, the stuff of the human heart that had come easily before, but now must be found hiding in the tiny pockets of embattled humanity that are left. He also has a great dog, so there’s that.



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