I don't know why I've been having such trouble with this post! I started it in early January and -- well, there you are! I guess I've been too busy "arting" and reading and Christmas and enjoying life to review! That changes now!
In 2013, I read 25 books. Some were frivolous, some marvelous, some "just there." I wanted to share my highlight a few notables I haven't mentioned in previous posts. Those mentioned in earlier posts here or on Chopsticks and Strings include links to the posts.
These are my two favorites. Hands down. I'll be doing another post about Vivian Swift soon, but if you aren't familiar with her wonderful and enchanting illustrations and delightful text, check out these two books.
"Wanderers" focuses on her year deciding to stay put at her home in a small Long Island town. You follow Vivian through the seasons, her cats, her neighbors and take some side trips back into her memories of other enchanting places. If you are an artist or designer, you will appreciate the book (both of them, actually) for their splendid illustrations and layout. But that's bonus points. Pure and simple, bonus points.
"Le Road Trip" chronicles Vivian's honeymoon in France with magical paintings of various locations, wry observations on love and France and terrific heart. Ask for this one from your Valentine! (Speaking of which, my valentine, Rick, has picked up this book more than once to read through parts. It's terrific.
Vivian's wonderful blog (which includes many painting lessons) is on hold while she finishes her book and comments are closed. But the blog itself is HERE and well worth a look. If you check out THIS POST on how to draw a cat, you might find a familiar face!
Living in a Foreign Language (Michael Tucker)
Rick thought this was sort of a cream puff but I loved "L.A. Law" star Michael Tucker's food memoir of his life in an Italian village in Tuscany (with his wife and "Law" star Jill Eikenberry). This book follows them from their vacation visit to owning their own home with a heavy emphasis on foodie Tucker's love affair with Italian cooking, wine and cuisine. You will want to make pasta every day after reading this (and learn a few tricks of traveling in Italy, too!)
Dearie: A Biography of Julia Child (Bob Spitz)
I don't know how many bios I have read on Julia (and I have another on the stack). This doesn't strike me with quite the authority of Julia's own "My Life in France" but it is far more comprehensive, going from her childhood (actually, the childhood of her parents) to her death. Spitz writes in an engaging way (some parts were laugh out loud funny -- in a good way).
Julia fans -- check this one out.
Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm -- Mardi Jo Link
I love memoirs and Bootstrapper is an empowering one. Writer Mardi Jo Link is a Michigan author whose husband left her and the three kids for another. (He still lived in near her farm outside Traverse City). He also left her with debt and a lot of struggle.
This biography covers her struggles to save her farm, feed her kids and keep her dignity. She is funny, feisty, well spoken and filled with love and determination. Highly recommended.
Jacqueline Kennedy Conversations (Arthur Schlessenger, Jr.)
Shortly after the death of President Kennedy, the former first lady sat down with Arthur Schlessenger, for a number of conversations about her husband. She reveals her take on such things as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs, various diplomats and leaders of state (including Kruschev and DeGaulle) and both praises and disses a lot of well known folks (not the least of which, and surprising to me, was her secretary Letitia Baldridge.)
The book I have came with CDs of the conversations as well. It's a longer listen if you go the CDs, but it's worth it to listen to at least some to get the tone of the conversation, the intimacy, Jackie's voice. Maybe it would be a good road trip listen for the more cerebral or politically oriented. (Don't look for much on fashion, the kids or the rest of the family. This is mostly Jackie's take on JFK and his presidency.)
Health and Inspiration
The Last Best Cure (Donna Jackson Nakazawa)
Hands down, the most important book I read all year. This is non-fiction, health oriented. Nakazawa is a writer who had more health problems than I do and most every other sick person I know. She was a mess -- a total mess. She decided to do her own "research" project -- to find a "last best cure" that would help alleviate, cure or at least make manageable her many issues.
She embarked on a one-year mission to explore alternative treatments (without forsaking her medical doctors) -- treatments that would be available in almost any area of the country and while not necessarily inexpensive could be affordable. Think meditation, yoga, massage, accupuncture, counseling, nutrition.
Her method worked for her -- worked well. And it has made some impact on my issues as well, although I've not done all her things. It is well backed up with scientific research studies and she quotes the data which may be a little much for some but I found rather supportive. I didn't agree or experience all her issues and back story but I think it's an important book for anyone dealing with certain chronic issues including fibromyalgia, blood pressure, arthritis and many other diseases.
Help, Thanks, Wow (Anne Lamott)
First of all, it's Anne Lamott -- so you know it is well written. This is a small non-fiction volume about prayers -- there are three prayer categories, according to Lamott -- Help (when we or someone we care about are in trouble), Thanks (when we dodge that bullet) and Wow -- for that awesome mystery of life.
Lamott contends (and I agree) that we make those prayers everyday -- even if one doesn't really believe in prayer to God or some higher power. She outlines each -- and she is (as Lamott fans would know) very funny about it at times. You don't have to be of faith to appreciate this book, to take in her words and give them consideration. If you are, you still will like it.
I would strongly recommend this book as a gift to anyone who may be having a challenging time and could use a little support. That's how it came to me and I will be forever grateful.
The "Aimee Leduc Series" (Cara Black)
I love Cara Black's Aimee Leduc series, all set in various areas of Paris. This year's offering was "Murder in the Lanterne Rouge." If you are looking to enjoy this series, start with the first, "Murder in the Marais." The stories are self-contained but the characters develop over time.
The Henning Mankell "Wallander" Books
I love the television mystery series "Wallander." Thanks to a book club friend, I have now read some of the mysteries by Henning Mankell that formed the basis for the series. I went to the beginning ("The Pyramid" -- five novellas from Wallander's early career) to "A Troubled Man," the final Wallander book. They are well written and for those who have seen the series, faithful to the characters presented on television.
The "Maisie Dobbs" Series (Jacqueline Winspear)
Without doubt, my favorite detective series. This years book was "Leaving Everything Most Loved." Maisie is a psychologist/investigator occasionally helping -- or butting heads -- with Scotland Yard. The first book begins post WWI and this particular book has taken Maisie up to the early 1930s. It appears to be a pivotal one for her various characters.
Again, I recommend this series from the beginning to end because of character development but each book is self-contained.