Just Giblets

Favorite Books Read in 2013 – #’s 9 & 10

4th January 2014
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2013 – #’s 9 & 10

As we dip into the top 10, we’ve got the last book I read this year, and the oldest book I read this year.  James Scott’s debut novel was harrowing and emotionally wrenching.  It would have been even higher on the list except that the ending, while appropriate, seemed a little rushed.  Charles de Lint is a writer of urban fantasy who has been publishing novels for thirty years.  I’ve always meant to read one of his books, and I finally did so, a book that he published in 2003.

The Kept#10 – The Kept by James Scott

James Scott has crafted a harsh tale of life in upstate New York in the late 1800′s. Elspeth works as a midwife, often on the road helping women give birth across the State of New York. At home, her husband Jorah, tends to their six children until the day Elspeth returns home after weeks away to find her family recently gunned down and left for dead. All that is save for her 12-year-old son Caleb, hidden from the massacre, yet traumatized by the violent events, Caleb and his mother must face harsh weather, serious wounds, damaging secrets and an unforgiving world as they seek revenge on the men who destroyed their lives. Both protagonists carry secrets  that manifest in a guilt that nearly causes them to make ill-fated decisions.  In fact, nearly all of the main characters  harbor anxiety producing secrets, and as any good reader of stories knows, those secrets are bound to come out.
Scott weaves an intricate tale that touches on so many issues, while keeping the story of a mother and her son at the core. The bleak landscape both without and within make for somber reading, but it’s well worth the effort to walk some miles in these tragic characters’ shoes.

Spirits in the Wires#9 – Spirits in the Wires by Charles de Lint

Charles de Lint is a prolific writer of fantasy whose books often deal with spirits, faeries, worlds just beyond our perception where all matter of magical folks live. In this novel from 2003 he posits that the world wide web has evolved into one such world where spirits have taken up residence alongside our own world as well as the Borderlands and the Otherworlds where hobs, pixies, goblins, faeries, hellhounds and other such beings lurk.

One website in particular, the Wordwood, seems to be home to a very powerful spirit, and when the site is attacked by a computer virus, the devastating effects are made manifest in our world in the disappearance of dozens, possibly hundreds of people. In fact, Christy Redding’s girlfriend, Saskia, disappears right before his eyes, her body pixellating into nothingness. Of course, Saskia isn’t a normal person. She was born of the web; a spirit cast out from the web to awaken fully cognizant with implanted memories but no actual experience in a human body.  Then there is Christiana, Christy’s shadow; all of the traits that Christy didn’t want at age seven that he cast off into his shadow. Christiana began life as everything Christy wasn’t: where Christy was male, Christiana was female; where Christy was cautious, Christiana was impetuous… etc.  After Saskia’s disappearance, Christy reaches out to a ragtag assortment of friends and allies to help him try to find her, little knowing that her best source of information would be his shadow, Christiana.

Spirits in the Wires is a rollicking adventure held on multiple fronts as a variety of fun and fascinating characters all do their part in helping the people who have disappeared. Some of his supporting characters come across as slightly stereotypical, but that might be the shorthand of the fact that many of these characters have appeared in other works that I haven’t read. de Lint handles the female characters particularly well, especially in their relationships with each other. At its heart, Spirits in the Wires is more internal story of where we come from and who we are. Saskia and Christiana struggle with their unconventional beginnings and ask whether that makes the any less human? By the end of the novel we will know the answer, but in de Lint’s skillful hands, how could they be anything but?

posted in 2012, Books, Fantasy, Year-end lists | at 11:06 am | 0 Comments
14th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – the Complete List

And now, here is my complete list of my favorite books read in 2012.

  1. Day for Night by Frederick Reiken
  2. May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes
  3. Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A. McKillip
  4. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Blunt
  5. Among Others by Jo Walton
  6. Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron
  7. The Paternity Test by Michael Lowenthal
  8. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  9. Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro
  10. All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani
  11. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
  12. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
  13. The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen
  14. Elza’s Kitchen by Marc Fitten
  15. Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
  16. Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

Two more books got a special mention:

  1. The First Time I Heard… Kate Bush, ed. by Scott Heim
  2. Kicking & Dreaming:  A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock and Roll by Ann & Nancy Wilson with Charles R. Cross

Then there were ten other books that I considered for my list of favorite books read in 2012, that for whatever reason, just didn’t make the cut.  I would say they are all good books and well worth reading.  These are listed in alphabetical order.

  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
  • Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray
  • Canada by Richard Ford
  • The Collective by Don Lee
  • Falling Backwards: A Memoir by Jann Arden
  • Fantastic Four: Season One by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and David Marquez
  • The First Warm Evening of the Year by Jamie Saul
  • Live by Night by Dennis Lehane
  • The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Eviston
  • Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Finally, five or six more books I read that just didn’t make the cut at all.  Not that they were bad, but they just weren’t in the league of the other books I’d read.  There were really only a couple of books that I either actively didn’t like, or that disappointed me.  I will not be listing these books here.  Ask me privately if you want to know what they were.

posted in 2012, Books, Year-end lists | at 7:56 am | 0 Comments
13th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #1

My favorite book read in 2012 was published in 2010, and recommended to me by my dear friend Daniel Goldin, owner of Boswell Book Company, an independent bookstore in Milwaukee.  Daniel is one of the best recommenders of books around, and he has a very active blog.  When Daniel mentioned Day for Night, I jotted it down on my list of books to be read, but by the time I was looking for something to read and stumbled over that title, I couldn’t remember anything he said about it.  Still, trusting Daniel’s book recommendations, coupled with the fact that the author lived in the Boston area, I decided to give it a try.  I was blown away.  So superb, and a debut too!  I am eagerly awaiting Frederick Reiken’s next novel.

Day for Night#1 – Day for Night by Frederick Reiken

Near the end of Frederick Reiken’s powerful novel Day for Night, one character says of another, “… if I thought hard enough, I’d come to understand her purpose.” With Reiken’s novel, I feel the opposite. The harder you ponder and try to make all the many story threads come together, the more elusive it all becomes. Yet when you take a step back and don’t try so hard to figure it out, it all flows and comes together like elegant artwork or music. In Day for Night, each of the ten chapters is told from the point-of-view of a different character. They are structured like individual short stories, yet all the stories are linked in some way, and they all build a larger tapestry. With topics as far ranging as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, marine biology, the Nazi’s persecution of the Jews, and environmental sensitivity syndrome, and a cast of characters that span continents and generations, Day for Night has mystery, romance, history, adventure… even a little science fiction when looked at from a certain angle. It’s the kind of tale that sticks with you for hours or days after you’ve read it, and haunts you in the best of all possible ways. I loved it.

posted in 2012, Authors, Books, Lists, Year-end lists | at 12:22 pm | 0 Comments
12th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #2

A new book by A.M. Homes is always an event in the Colford household.  Homes is one of the few authors that both Scot and I love and read together.  Homes is the author of six novels, two short story collections, a memoir, a travel memoir.  She adapted her own novel for teens, Jack, as a teleplay.    Her celebrated collection of short stories, The Safety of Objects was adapted to the screen by Rose Troche.  Her latest novel is a twisted literary odyssey that is, while being in the runner-up position for best book I read in 2012, is definitely my favorite book published in 2012 that I read.

May We Be Forgiven#2 – May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes

A.M. Homes has created something astounding with May We Be Forgiven. This modern tale of redemption followed Harold Silver, a man on the outside looking in, who is forced to stop watching and start participating, when his older brother George comes unwound and becomes responsible for a series of deaths. Harold suddenly finds himself responsible for the care of George’s two children, his home, his pets, and getting his own life back on track. But before he can do any of that, he must descend into the surreal, rhythms of a life that buffets him around from one unsettling experience to the next. I loved this book. It starts off with a series of shocking events, then peels back the facade of the upper middle-class to expose some pretty bizarre, and sometimes ugly behavior. Readers will be left alternately disturbed and chuckling by Homes’ straight-forward writing style married to her startling circumstances. Characters frequently misunderstand each other to comic or tragic effect. But somewhere along the way, with sublime subtlety, Homes starts to turn things around, and allow George to piece his life back together. As the title may suggest, this is a powerful, and beautifully rendered story of forgiveness.

posted in 2012, Authors, Books, Lists, Year-end lists | at 11:16 am | 0 Comments
10th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 3 & 4

A debut novel and a collection of previously printed short stories — not what I was expecting for my third and fourth favorite books read in 2012!

Tell the Wolves I'm Home#4 – Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Carol Rifka Brunt has crafted a beautifully, sad, coming-of-age tale about fourteen-year-old June Elbus, her older sister Greta, and her Uncle Finn. Set in the early 1980′s, June’s world is rocked when her beloved Uncle dies of complications from AIDS. Recent changes in her relationship with Greta have made June believe that Finn was truly the only person to understand her. Enter the mysterious Toby, much maligned by the rest of her family, June finds in Toby a potential kindred spirit and someone from whom she can at the very least, learn more about Finn’s life.

Brunt masterfully negotiates the twists and turns of adolescence, while adding an additional layer of adult, emotional trauma in a story that is both powerful and incredibly moving. It also demonstrates just how far we’ve come as a society since the early 80′s, with regard to AIDS. Yet at the same time, some of the themes Brunt explores would still be scandalous in today’s world, which is a shame. This is a terrific debut novel, and I highly recommend it.

Wonders of the Invisible World#3 – Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A. McKillip

I was thrilled when I found out there was a new Patricia McKillip book recently released; then mildly disappointed when I found out it was a collection of previously published short stories. Not that I had read any of the stories yet, but generally, I enjoy McKillip’s novels more than her short stories.

Much to my surprise, the stories in Wonders of the Invisible World were truly wonders, and rose to the heights of some of McKillip’s best writing. This gifted artist paints literary landscapes across my heart and mind whether the setting be Puritan New England, a mysterious village in the woods, or an underwater realm. She snaps characters to life with the turn of a phrase, a phrase that seems familiar in the fantasy context, yet is at once strikingly original.

There is a lot of water imagery in this collection, which delighted me. I can’t recall many of her novels featuring the magic of water, and she writes it beautifully. I would love to see an entire novel devoted to the characters and setting of ‘Knight of the Well,’ or ‘The Kelpie.’

McKillip doesn’t just stick with fantasy in this collection either, but dips her hand into science fiction, as with the time travelling researcher in the title story, ‘Wonders of the Invisible World.’

It was nice to see some of McKillip’s less seen humor creep into several of these stories. While her creation and depiction of fantasy realms is the strongest weapon in her literary arsenal, this collection shows off the prodigious talent in her juxtaposition of fantasy with the modern world. And as is now to be expected, her stellar command of language shines through in this magnificent collection.

posted in 2012, Authors, Books, Fantasy, Lists, Year-end lists | at 9:19 pm | 0 Comments
9th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 5 & 6

Here is a pair of books that are getting or have gotten some acclaim already.  Peter Cameron’s Coral Glynn has been a top pick of the year on several authors’ lists, and Jo Walton’s Among Others has won the Nebula Award for Best Novel 2011, and the Hugo Award for Best Novel 2012.  

Coral Glynn#6 – Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron

Peter Cameron has crafted an exquisite book about socially awkward people living in England in the 1950′s. Reminiscent of the social examinations of the Bronte sisters, Coral Glynn reveals the solitary life of a shy, young woman working as a visiting nurse. When she suddenly finds herself married and suspected of a hideous crime, she flees to London and unwittingly finds the path to eventual happiness. Cameron’s exquisite writing captures the tone and style of another era.  Coral is a fascinating character, so anachronistic in some ways, yet perfectly drawn for this book with its timeframe firmly set in a certain era, yet with a feel that is almost timeless.  Although more stylistic, Coral Glynn is a nice match with Margot Livesey’s The Flight of Gemma Hardy, which was my #7 favorite book read in 2011.

 

 

Among Others#5 – Among Others by Jo Walton

Beautifully written, realistic fantasy about a teen-aged girl imbued with magic who talks with fairies, struggles against her evil-witch mother, endures the trials of assimilating into a new, private, girls, boarding school, and finds salvation in the world of books. Jo Walton balances the coming-of-age of a young woman with the mystical world of fairies in Wales and England.  Walton, perhaps through the use of the diary format where protagonist Mori reveals all her innermost thoughts and feelings, manages to ground this story so firmly in reality, even as she writes about wild magic running through the land, and Mori talking to fairies.  Perhaps most remarkable is the way she weaves in a wealth of books, especially science fiction in delightfully compelling ways. And her use of libraries and librarians is exemplary! Where else will you find the quote, “Interlibrary Loans are a wonder of the world and a glory of civilization.”?

posted in 2012, Authors, Books, Lists, Year-end lists | at 7:58 am | 0 Comments
8th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 7 & 8

It’s nerve-wracking being friends with published authors.  I always worry I’m not going to like their books!  Fortunately, that rarely happens, and I have found being completely honest usually serves very well.  This pair of books both took me by surprise.  One I didn’t expect to like, and the other I grew to like more and more after I completed it and time passed.

The Night Circus

#8 - The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I was a slow convert despite the hype. Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is an exquisitely crafted fantasy/romance/historical mash-up that, like the circus it describes, contains ever-increasing wonders as each page turns. Celia and Marco are bound by their father/mentor respectively to spend much of their lives preparing for, then competing in a mystical challenge. This particular challenge has been repeated for centuries with very little variance in

the outcome: one participant wins, the other is no more. The problem is, Celia and Marco meet and fall in love, despite the challenge, which they are bound to and upon which they are unable to turn their backs.

This bizarre challenge/romance takes place against the backdrop of Le Cirque des Rêves a glorious circus that appears in different cities during the cover of darkness and is only open at night. Morgenstern’s debut is intricately layered and filled with a rich and fascinating cast of characters. But best of all, she manages to continuously convey the wonder of the magical circus tents throughout at 400-page book, without repeating herself, or resorting to cliche. It’s a magnificent effort, and a joy to read.

The Paternity Test#7 – The Paternity Test by Michael Lowenthal

For a novel, that on the one hand, appears as a slightly sudsy melodrama about a gay couple desiring a child, Michael Lowenthal’s The Paternity Test challenged me the way few books do.  Here is my best attempt to convey the complexity of emotions I felt throughout my reading it. At first The Paternity Test seemed like it was going to be a fairly straight-forward story; gay couple, together for a while and facing a turning point, decide to leave the big city, move to Cape Cod and have a child by using a surrogate. There would be the typical dramatic moments exploring issues such as having a child to save a relationship; difficulty with the surrogate, that kind of thing. In fact, I wasn’t all that interested in the subject matter, and wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it. But when you get an advanced copy from the author himself, you make a point of reading it. 

The first thing I noticed was how compelling it was. I couldn’t put the book down and read it in record time. That said, it was a very tough read for me, stirring up all sorts of conflicting emotions. For much of the book I wasn’t sure I was enjoying it, and had particular trouble with the lead character, Pat. Often I was worried about the direction the book was headed in. Sometimes I had the distinct feeling that I was reading a novelization of “Days of our Lives.” But by the end of the book, I was excited by the journey it took me on, the very fact that I was all over the place emotionally with the characters, yet ultimately having it be a really satisfying reading experience for me. Like parenthood, like relationships, like family, there is nothing simple about The Paternity Test; there are ups and downs, moments of melodrama, laughter, tears, anger… all the things that make a wonderful novel.

 

 

7th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 9 & 10

All of the books on this list are great, but it’s a sure sign of a bumper crop year when a new Alice Munro is down at #9!

#10 – All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani

Christopher Castellani’s third novel is a beautifully evocative examination of a family greatly affected by a past tragedy and their ethnic culture. Antonio and Maddalena Grasso came to America from Santa Cecila, Italy fifty years ago. Together they had three children, but lost one tragically years ago. Now their remaining children and grandchildren have each formed a family construct based on their individual experiences, while Antonio and Maddalena each deal with their personal grief in solitary ways.

The novel examines the complicated ways people love, as stated in the book, from the heart, from the head and from the soul. With Maddalena, who was in love with another boy before Antonio and Maddalena’s father arranged their marriage, love is compartmentalized, coupled with a need to cut herself off completely from her heritage, ignoring letters and calls to her family back in Italy. When her daughter Prima tries to arrange a trip for the entire family to travel back to Santa Cecila, all are taken aback by the ferocity of Maddalena’s refusal. Youngest son Frankie has moved from the family’s Delaware roots to write his thesis at Boston College. He is a lost soul, eschewing maturity for a dysfunctional sexual relationship with his adviser, and a relationship with his mother that can’t move past childhood.

Couple all of these mini family dramas with Maddalena’s health challenges and you’d think All This Talk of Love would echo the soap opera that Frankie and Maddalena discuss every day. But Castellani’s exploration lifts the story above melodramatics and creates flawed and real characters struggling with long ago grief and the complicated love of family.

#9 – Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro

Alice Munro, the master of the modern short story, continues to show her prodigious talent in her latest collection entitled Dear Life. Each story illuminates a life at a pivotal moment and who this moment affects its subject. Dear Life also includes a series of four memories from the author life; structured as short stories, they are mini-memoirs, colored by memory and creativity, yet illuminating the way each of her stories are.

Many of the stories in Dear Life are set in the post WWII era of Canada, and the memory of the way and the Depression infuse them. One story in particular, “Leaving Maverley,” highlights the power of Munro’s storytelling, where with a simple sentence; a reflection of what has gone on before, Munro is able to bring the reader to tears.

 

6th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 12 & 11

It really hit me as I prepared to write this blog entry, the high quality of writing and creativity in the books I read this year, because the fact that these two books didn’t crack my top 10 astounds me.  This is a pair of outstanding reads, beautifully written, imaginative, emotionally moving, and powerful.  What is perhaps even more remarkable is that both of these exquisite novels are debuts.  Congratulations to both talented authors.

#12 – The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

M.L. Stedman’s debut novel tells an emotional tale of loss, love, and lies, set on the isolated western coast of Australia in the early 1900′s. Tom Sherbourne is a decorated war hero trying to reconcile his role during the war, and his own difficult childhood. He takes an isolating job as a lighthouse keeper on the remote island of Janus Rock, but that doesn’t prevent him from meeting, falling in love with, and marrying Isabel. The two share a powerful bond and set up life on Janus Rock, but after three miscarriages and the doubtful prospect of having a child of their own, Isabel is consumed with grief. When a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a newborn baby, Isabel sees this as a sign from God that she should raise this little girl as her own, despite the fact that there is no sign of a mother. The choices Isabel and Tom make a difficult and will have consequences in their future that will shatter several lives. Stedman’s writing is adept in describing the isolation and beauty of Janus Rock, the power of the ocean, the grace and beauty of the lighthouse, and the complex ethical and emotional issues that emerge from the Sherbourne’s actions. The Light Between Oceans reminded me of my favorite film from 2011 called A SEPARATION (from Iran). The similarities lie in the fact that good people are forced to make decisions for which there is no good result, and we understand and even empathize with each decision made, knowing that the end result will be painful and devastating for all involved. This is a powerful read.

#11 – The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Profoundly, beautiful coming-of-age story set to a slow, apocalyptic end-of-the world tale. When the residents of a southern Californian suburb first hear that the earth’s rotation is slowing, there is a brief panic, but human beings being the adaptable lot they are, soon things fall into step again, with some minor tweaks. But as the earth’s rotation continues to slow, and more, serious consequences begin to emerge, 12-year-old Julia, and others, begin to understand that nothing will be the same again. Yet even as the human race begins its presumed road to extinction, Julia must cope with the realities of being a young teen, including buying her first bra, negotiating the whimsical nature of friendship, and falling in love for the first time. Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel is heart-rending in its tragic inevitability, yet hopeful in the way Julia move though adolescence into adulthood.

posted in 2012, Authors, Books, Movies, Reviews, Year-end lists | at 11:20 am | 0 Comments
4th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 16 & 15

As I mentioned previously, it was a good year for books.  I read a lot of really good books last year, and I couldn’t quite stop at a top 15… I had to squeeze one more on there.  So here we go, #’s 16 & 15 of my favorite books read in 2012!  And what do they have in common?  They’re both geared toward teen readers.  #16 is a newcomer to this list, and #15 made the list last year at #10.

#16 – Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

I read two teen novels with gay characters/themes in them, and while I enjoyed them both, both had flaws as well.  Will Grayson Will Grayson‘s conceit about two characters named Will Grayson, one straight, and one gay, written by two authors handling alternating chapters is both a strength and a weakness.  The two writers have noticeably different writing styles, which I found distracting.  There is also an element of over-simplification that can often mars feel-good novels.  However the book is hilarious, unabashedly moving, and a nice look at the variety of personalities embodying high school life today.

 

 

#15 – Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

Cory’s latest book tackles a subject he is passionate about: copyright and the internet. In Pirate Cinema, a boy runs away to London after his cinema mash-ups cause his family to lose internet access for a month. While living on the streets, he hooks up with a Dickensian band of pals who show him how to live on his own and educate him about the draconian nature of the laws created by big entertainment industry that struggle to hang on to the establishment, but stifle the artistic creativity of a new generation. (He also finds a pretty amazing girlfriend.)  While the novelty of this book for me was seeing my husband’s name appear throughout in a very pivotal role (Scot won naming rights at an auction) about halfway through  Cory had hooked me with a compelling read, strong characters, and a message that is so relevant to the world we live in today.  Cory’s last novel, the epic For the Win was my #10 favorite book read in 2011.

Subscribe
RSS 2.0 Feed
Comments Feed
  • Archives

    open all | close all