Friday, December 27, 2013

Four Books To Jump Start Your 2014 Reading

Maybe you're like me:  You take the Goodreads Challenge at a book a week.  Or maybe you only have time for one per month or one per day (yes, I do have friends who manage this!).  

Or maybe you're like me in that 2013 was a challenging year and you didn't get around to reviewing some of your favorite books.  Below you'll find my attempt to remedy that with four new (brief) reviews of books I rate as among my favorites of 2013.

Why not start January 2014 with a series of knock-outs?

I've also provided links directly to each book on Goodreads,, and Amazon to make them easy to find.

1. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Snow ChildPublisher's Summary:
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone--but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

My Opinion: 
Simply gorgeous. By far the most engrossing, exquisitely-crafted novel of my reading year. Ivey's deft hand with every aspect of storytelling makes this magical-realistic tale of a childless couple homesteading in 1920's Alaska one you will sink into and stay immersed in from cover to cover. And it will color your days and nights for many days after you reluctantly return it to the shelf. Recommended without reservation.

Check out others' reviews of The Snow Child on Goodreads.
Get it at your local bookseller or library, or with this direct link to it on or

2.  Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind
Publisher's Summary:
Perfume: The Story of a MurdererIn the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift—an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille's genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and fresh-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the "ultimate perfume"—the scent of a beautiful young virgin. Told with dazzling narrative brilliance, Perfume is a hauntingly powerful tale of murder and sensual depravity.

My Opinion:
This novel from 1987, translated from the German by John E. Woods (who won the PEN translation award for it that year), absolutely captured everyone in our book group.  Surprising, creeptastic, gorgeously written, and entirely discussion-worthy, this meditation on excess and obsession - not to mention sensory gluttony - never failed to surprise me.    It's rare these days that I find myself wondering what will happen next yet savoring every sentence; Perfume shares these traits with The Snow Child, although the prose and the plots are quite distinct. 

Check out others' reviews of Perfume on Goodreads.
Get it at your local bookseller or library, or with this direct link to or

3.  The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
The Golem and the Jinni    Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899. 
    Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world. 
    The Golem and the Jinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

My Opinion:
What could be more enchanting than a magically-real fantasy set in my favorite city?  Fast-paced, full of period details and mythic confrontations, this novel also offers us a psychological exploration of the nature of loyalty and the (im)possibility of moving beyond our innate natures.  Choose this one first if you're looking for an engrossing page-turner that's a cut above the usual fantasy fare.

Check out others' reviews of Code Name Verity on Goodreads.
Get it at your local bookseller or library, or with this direct link to it on or

4. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Publisher's Summary:
12851538    Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun.
    When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.
    As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?
    A Michael L. Printz Award Honor book that was called "a fiendishly-plotted mind game of a novel" in The New York Times, Code Name Verity is a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other.

My Opinion:
This well-researched and compelling historical fiction was my  favorite YA book of the year.  It features dual female narrators whose varying perspectives keep you guessing until the very end.  I happened to "tandem read" this, and the readers for the audiobook (Lucy Gaskell and Morven Christie) were quite skillful and well-cast too.  After I read it, this book won scads of awards; I'm not surprised, and you won't be either!

Check out others' reviews of Code Name Verity on Goodreads.
Get it at your local bookseller or library, or with this direct link to it on or

MFB, with best wishes for a fabulous year of reading,


Christine said...

I just received number one and have been wanting to check out number two for awhile!

Laurie said...

I think you'll admire The Snow Child and find Perfume fascinating. Off to see what y recommend for 2014!

thebookstop said...

Thanks for these reviews! I loved Code Name Verity -- struggled with the first half and then couldn't put down the second. I'm hearing great things about The Golem and the Jinni, I'll have to put that on my list. These all sound great. Happy New Year!

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