All posts by Laurie C

I'm a public librarian in Massachusetts who loves to give reading suggestions, whether asked-for or not, a specialty known in library jargon as "reader's advisory". I read a lot -- mostly literary, genre, and young adult fiction, but also short stories and memoirs -- and listen to a lot of audiobooks. Newer favorites include Patry Francis, Donna Tartt, Meg Wolitzer, Lev Grossman, Jennifer Egan, Laurie R. King, Lionel Shriver, Carolyn Parkhurst, Penny Vincenzi, Michael Connelly, Alexander McCall Smith, Orson Scott Card, Patrick Rothfuss, Martha Southgate, Jennifer Haigh, Zadie Smith, and Louise Penny. Some older favorites are Lorrie Moore, Anne Tyler, Ian McEwan, Susan Howatch, and Connie Willis.

2012 TBR Pile Challenge Fail

2012 Challenge BadgeI failed miserably in my first attempt at Roof Beam Reader’s TBR Pile Challenge this year. To meet the challenge, I had to read and review twelve books that had been on my “To Be Read” list for over a year. Two alternates are allowed in case you really hate a couple of the books.

As you can see, I failed the challenge, only reading two of the twelve older books that I’ve been meaning to read but that kept getting nudged aside by newer titles.

My 2012 TBR Pile Challenge List

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Snow by Orhan Pamuk
The Master Bedroom by Tessa Hadley
An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey
The Whole World Over by Julia Glass
Map of Ireland by Stephanie Grant
The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett
All Is Vanity by Christina Schwarz
Codex by Lev Grossman
Third Girl from the Left by Martha Southgate
The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

Two Alternates
Great House by Nicole Krauss
Family Album by Penelope Lively

Since this challenge was supposed to help me with an unofficial goal for 2012 – to read more of the Massachusetts Book Award winners and Honor books from recent years – I’m going to try again in 2013! For my new list, I’ve swapped out the first two books on the original list with two at the end that I bought to read and actually have sitting on a shelf. I have a new strategy, too – to work harder on the list at the beginning of the year because from September on, life gets too busy.

My 2013 TBR Pile Challenge List

The Master Bedroom by Tessa Hadley
An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey
The Whole World Over by Julia Glass
Map of Ireland by Stephanie Grant
The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett
All Is Vanity by Christina Schwarz
Codex by Lev Grossman
Third Girl from the Left by Martha Southgate
The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
Wish You Were Here by Stewart O’Nan
Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

Two Alternates
Great House by Nicole Krauss
Family Album by Penelope Lively

The two books I read and reviewed from my 2012 list – Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese and Snow by Orhan Pamuk – were both very good, but they didn’t make my list of favorite reads from 2012.


My Favorite Reads of 2012

cover imageInspired by reading year-end lists on other blogs, I’m posting my own. These are my favorite books that I read in 2012, but some were published earlier. I’m not including any books that aren’t published yet, like The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore (Knopf, 2013.)

A favorites list isn’t the same as a Best Books list, but these are still all excellent books. My 2012 favorites all have that something extra – resonance for me personally, an amazing audiobook narrator, extraordinarily powerful language, the reappearance of favorite characters, or something else – that makes me want to urge these books on other readers to enjoy.

Please chime in in the comments to tell me what your favorites of 2012 were!

Favorite Reads

Accelerated by Bronwen Hruska
Pegasus, 2012
New York City father takes on his child’s pressure-cooker private school.

Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel (Read my review)
Doubleday, 2012
Touching comedy of manners and thoughtful exploration of grief.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Knopf, 2011
Harshly beautiful love story with a magical circus and dueling magicians.

One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper
Dutton, 2012
A slacker dad/ex-husband tries to make peace with family and loser-ish friends.

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
Knopf, 2012
For summer reading with Maine, That Old Cape Magic, and Sag Harbor.

The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont (Read my review)
St. Martin’s, 2012
A Separate Peace for a whole new generation.

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
DAW, 2011
Second in a huge epic fantasy trilogy for readers who think they don’t like epic fantasy.


Favorite Listens

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny, narrated by Ralph Cosham (Read my review)
Macmillan Audio, 2012
8th in wonderful series featuring Chief Inspector Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, narrated by the author (Read my review)
Scholastic Audio, 2011
Wildly funny story of teen beauty pageant contestants stranded on a jungle island.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, narrated by Ralph Cosham (Read my review)
Blackstone Audio, 2012
Like listening to a great story while sitting by a roaring English fire.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, narrated by David Pittu
Macmillan Audio 2011
Captures the intellectual and moral confusion of coming of age in the early 80s.

The Night Swimmer by Matt Bondurant, narrated by Hillary Huber (Read my review)
AudioGO, 2012
A perfectly rendered audio edition of an atmospheric, contemporary gothic story.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, narrated by Wil Wheaton
Random House Audio, 2011
Awesome virtual-reality story with tech-nerd heroes and corporate-drone enemies.

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison, narrated by Jeff Woodman (Read my review)
Highbridge Audio, 2012
Award-worthy narration of the voice of Ben Benjamin, a man adrift with grief.

State of Wonder by Anne Patchett, narrated by Hope Davis (Read my review)
Harper Audio, 2011
Marina Singh makes a Heart of Darkness-style journey from Minnesota to the Amazon.


7 Audiobooks for Winter Holiday Reading

Looking for audiobooks to listen to while you wrap gifts, bake cookies, or drive around to stores for last-minute shopping? You could always go with Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (I like the dramatization by Patrick Stewart, but there are plenty of other readings out there by big names in audio like Frank Muller, Simon Prebble, Simon Vance, Jonathan Winters, and Scott Brick.) but if you’re looking for something different – maybe a little darker or more contemporary, focusing on secular aspects of Christmas more than the religious, more caustic than cozy – you might try these.

A Christmas blizzardA Christmas Blizzard by Garrison Keillor (HighBridge, 2009)
Narrated by Garrison Keillor
Humor with an undercurrent of sadness and satire is trademark Garrison Keillor, and his writing and narration of this short novel (5 CDs) is a good example. (If you’re a Prairie Home Companion listener, think of the News from Lake Woebegon segments, where radio host Keillor hints at the sublime by fondly and mildly ridiculing the inhabitants of a small Minnesotan town.) Mood music rises and falls in the background of the reading of this story about a wealthy man who wants to spend Christmas on his fabulous Hawaiian estate, Kuhikuhikapapa’-u’maumau, with his wife Joyce – away from everyone except for all the servants and personal assistants – while Joyce has more traditional ideas about how to spend Christmas.

The Christmas companionThe Christmas Companion (HighBridge, 2005)
Prairie Home Companion
Like listening to a couple of a Prairie Home Companion Christmas specials back to back, this compilation of stories, songs, and sketches from various years’ shows includes traditional, jazzy, and humorous Christmas songs (including a very funny Twelve Days of Christmas) and funny bits from the show, including a Guy Noir spoof about the noirish private eye tracking down the lactose-intolerant hate group (the Skimheads) that’s been terrorizing dairy-loving Minnesotans. This is a good audio to listen to while you’re busy doing other things because each segment is short, so it’s like having the radio on but being able to rewind if you miss a joke or a song!

Eight white nights : [a novel]Eight White Nights by André Aciman (Tantor, 2010)
Narrated by Paul Boehmer
This absolutely amazing reading by audiobook narrator Paul Boehmer blew me away, but the novel itself might induce claustrophobia in readers who prefer more action and less privileged Manhattanite self-examination. Eight White Nights is narrated by an intensely self-aware young man (left unnamed) who meets a beautiful young woman at a Christmas party and, as soon as he hears her voice, is stricken with desire. They both feel this instant connection, and spend the rest of the party saying clever things, ignoring the rest of the guests. Over the course of this long novel (17 hours on 14 CDs) the narrator obsesses over how to act with Clara (should he call her, when should he call her, what should he say if he calls her, maybe he’ll wait for her to call him, etc.) while maintaining a cool, self-assured exterior so as not to appear needy. This literary exploration of the workings of the human heart and brain cast a spell over me that lingered long after the book ended, so if the vivesection of a Manhattan love affair sounds appealing to you, try Eight White Nights for a change of pace during a frenetic holiday season.

Emily Alone by Stewart O’Nan (Recorded Books, 2011)
Narrated by Andrea Gallo
A follow-up to Wish You Were Here, this novel picks up the story of the widowed Emily Maxwell ten years later. Now in her late seventies, she is living quietly on her own, beginning to take stock of her life, its pleasures and disappointments, its routines and the changes she could make with or without consulting her two adult children, who are busy with their own lives and families. Emily Alone is true-to-life domestic fiction – Emily Maxwell doesn’t hare off to become a spy like Mrs. Pollifax or conduct a love affair à la Bridges of Madison County – and the heroine is thoroughly likeable, though imperfect. The parts of the story that take place from Thanksgiving to New Year’s may seem familiar to anyone who has navigated the treacherous terrain when separate family factions come together for the sake of the holidays, lugging all the baggage from the past with them.

Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard (Sound Library, now AudioGO, 2003)
Narrated by Mark Honan
The hero of Mr. Timothy is Tiny Tim Cratchit from A Christmas Carol, all grown up, sprung loose from the constrictions of his pious childhood and indulging in loose living until his benefactor, “Uncle” Ebenezer puts a hold on the funds, forcing him to make his own living and opening his eyes to new ways of looking at his past, present, and future. This is Dickens gone rogue, with Mr. Timothy taking up lodgings in a brothel and the f-word and c-word making an occasional appearance. It’s a dark London story with plenty of Dickensian characters like ragged orphans, shady villains, brothel keepers, and rough-talking river men with hearts of gold – and you will be rooting for Timothy after the first ten minutes. The novel’s first-person narration and colorful language are perfectly suited to audio, and the audio narration by Mark Honan is excellent!

NPR holiday favoritesNPR Holiday Favorites
Narrated by Susan Stamberg and many others
Introduced by Susan Stamberg, this is one of the few on this list that include Hanukkah- and Kwanzaa-themed stories along with Christmas ones, probably because it’s a mix of fiction and nonfiction segments that have been broadcast over the years on National Public Radio. A highlight, of course, is David Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries about his (brief) stint as a Christmas elf, but there are also some seriously heartwarming pieces mingled with the humorous ones. This would make a great gift for an audiobook lover who loves the holiday season; it’s one you can pull out and listen to again each year.

Image coming soonRumpole at Christmas by John Mortimer (BBC Audiobooks, now AudioGO, 2009)
Narrated by Bill Wallis
Even if you’re not familiar with the gruff English barrister known as Rumpole of the Bailey, these short, Christmas-themed stories will make for amusing, light holiday listening. Rumpole himself narrates the stories, and actor Bill Wallis captures perfectly the gruff pomposity and Colombo-like, deceptive bumbling of the sharp-eyed, skillful courtroom defender of London’s hoodlums and common thieves. The collection is made up of seven stand-alone tales of Horace Rumpole’s defense cases and home life with Hilda, his wife, known in Rumpole’s mind as “She Who Must Be Obeyed.” (Since Rumpole normally spends most of his time at the Bailey or drinking at Pommeroy’s wine bar across the street, home life around the holidays makes him more crotchety than usual, what with the courts closed and Hilda’s expecting him to celebrate instead of going to work.) Listen to a sample or download individual stories or the whole collection direct from AudioGo here.

Let me know what books to add to next year’s holiday listening list! (I’d especially like to add a couple of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa novels or short story collections for adults to this list, so please leave recommendations in the comments if you know some good ones.)