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Memorable Reads of 2013


Thoughts: I have a very fruitful year in reading even though I read less—97 books—compared to last year’s 103. In term of the number of pages read there is a net increase. The new iPad doesn’t change my habit drastically as I’m still perusing the printed pages.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. (1/31-2/3/13) The mystery of Amy Elliot Dunne’s disappearance only gets more tangled as secrets cobwebby lies and spiteful schemes unfurl from their troubled marriage. Flynn’s ingenious plot ropes readers in and give them creep until the end, as it will be clear that the outcome is far more disturbing and menacing than death.

The Expats by Chris Pavone. (2/5-2/10/13) The debut is intricately and meticulously plotted. The book is entertaining enough to kill time with as one is immediately drawn into the multiple facets that drive the story forward. Yes, there are selfish pursuits, ill-begotten triumphs, and very repulsive humanity involved. All these are not fully revealed until the end.

Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng. (2/14-2/18/13) Cheng’s story is a testimony to human capacity of endurance and courage. In the face of persecution she stood firm with stubborn integrity and dignity. Her entire life is a lambaste against the caprice and hypocrisy of the Chinese Communist Party, the ugly drama of a power struggle between Mao and those who threaten his position.

Mapping the Territory by Christopher Bram. (3/8-3/12/13) A brilliant collection of essays on popular (gay) culture. As befit and instinctive of a novelist, into these autobiographical piece, arranged more or less in chronological order, imparted Bram’s love for books and literature and how they help him address his sexuality as well as allow him to read his own desires.

A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett. (4/7-4/11/13) It’s a plot-driven thriller with many giddy leaps and convolution. is a novel about good and evil, power and greed, and the far-reaching consequences of one’s actions. It opens in 1866 at an idyllic English boarding school where Hugh Pilaster, who belongs to a rising London banking family, witnesses what is officially termed the accidental drowning of a school chum.

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn. (4/12-4/15/13) Sharing much in common with Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader, this debut applies insight, wit, originality, and a touch of humor to the remarkably restricted universe of The Queen, to whom “life beyond the palace walls was foreign.” It touches on how The Queen internalized her grief about Diana trouble and tragic death. The book also gives an intimate portrait of the complex relationships between The Queen and her staff, illuminating the British class system that is still at work.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal. (4/24-4/26/13) The first of the series is the story of Maggie Hope, a British citizen who was raised by her aunt, a lesbian academic, in America. Her exceptional math skills puts her in 10 Downing Street. Her expertise in code deciphering also saves the prime minister from the harm of infiltrated spies.

Argo by Antonio Mendez. (5/11-5/13/13) It recounts how CIA and Canada hid and then sneaked the six diplomats out of Iran before the militants realized they were unaccounted for in the hostage crisis. Much of the planning and execution of the escape fell to Antonio Mendez, a top-level CIA officer who specializes in forging, authenticating, and maintaining aliases and covers for clandestine operations. The meat, of course, is Mendez’s preparation to pull off this charade that would rescue the six American diplomats out of Iran.

The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons. (7/3-7/7/13) Creepy and spooky. It is not a generic horror novel. Siddons writes with assurance, as tension builds up over small sinister occurrences, with an escalating feeling of eerieness.

Almost Like Being in Love by Steve Kluger. (9/6-9/8/13) Charming, engrossing, funny, and original (I usually don’t attach so many adjectives to a book), this is a book about first love, true love, and love in general. A gay man drives across the country to find his first love from 20 years ago. It’s just warm and cute.

The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam. (10/3-10/7/13) A father caught in opposite sides of Vietnam at war. But he has to curry the favor of enemy in order to save his son. Despite his indifference to politics, the complexities of war and the clash of cultural clash encroach further into his world. Even the people in his close circle are not what they appear to be. When he finally confronts what he refuses to see, he faces the biggest wager in his life.

The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez. (10/25-10/26/13) This is one of the cleverest mysteries. does not have the most exciting characters—some of whom are in fact dull. The book does appeal reader’s mind and seduces one to solve an abstract logical puzzle. There are puzzles within puzzles, red herrings both obvious and obscure. The slow unmasking of the culprit reveals that however they are dressed with an intellectual allure, the motives behind the murders are so much simpler, intellectual speaking, but emotionally complex.

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes. (12/8-12/10/13) A modern-day fatal attraction/obsession type of story. Pulsated with tension and suspense, the narratives with concurrent time lines slowly evolve then meet—and collide, as Catherine, with the help of a psychologist-cum-neighbor, gradually confronts her fears and seeks medical treatment. This book is captivating from beginning to end, although some parts of it on the physical abuse can be very disturbing to read. Haynes creates the terror of domestic abuse in a way that feels real and yet so very unusual.
We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. (12/14-12/19/13) The mother of a teenage serial killer reflects on marriage and motherhood—asking questions that even as a society, we cannot answer. Why? The novel forces us, as a society, to confront assumptions about love and parenting, about how and why we apportion blame, about forgiveness and redemption. A thoughtful treatise on our blame culture.

… the list will most likely include Watchers by Dean Koontz, which I’m reading at the moment. A golden retriever is imparted with human genes through genetic engineering has escaped a laboratory. How can I not like the book?


7 Responses

  1. I’ve only read Follett from your list. The others are going on a list!

  2. OMG I LOVED Watchers when I first read it umpteen years ago. Of all the Koontz books, that one and Whispers were my favorite. I haven’t read many of these (but now I have more to add to my lists) but would completely agree with Kevin and Gone Girl!

  3. Of this list I’ve only read Gone Girl, which really lived up to the hype. I’m interested to hear Argo is a good book, my husband and I really liked the movie except felt they Hollywoodized the end a bit much. I’ll have to check out the book. Happy New Year!

  4. Two of your reads almost made it to my favorites list: Gone Girl and Mr. Churchill’s Secretary. Such great reads. I’m definitely adding some of these others to my TBR. Wishing you a great reading year ahead!

  5. I read The House Next Door during the fall a few years ago and I LOVED it. Definitely one I want to reread next year. I didn’t love We Need to Talk About Kevin, but Gone Girl made my list when I read it last year. Have you read her other books? They are all great.

    Happy New Year!

  6. I want to read Into the Darkest Corner due to your review. Expats is also on my list. I agree We Need to talk about Kevin was amazing, the best recommended book club read I think. I wasn’t a fan of Gone Girl, but i’m in the minority for that one.

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