Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. This book's premise--that the protagonist is born and dies repeatedly, with subsequent lives changing in small and large ways as a result of her own or others' actions--was intriguing, and Atkinson's development of Ursula Todd's multiple stories was engrossing, informative (I gained a lot of insight into Great Britain during WWII), and occasionally gasp-inducing. While the book broke down a bit at the end, it is still by far the most memorable novel I read this year.
Honorable Mention: There Will be Apricots, by Jessica Sofer; The Round House, by Louise Erdrich; Frances and Bernard, by Colleen Bauer; Traps, by MacKenzie Bezos.
I spent quite a bit of time in 2013 complaining about the bad mysteries I was reading, and many were really not worth the time it took to breeze through them. One that wasn't: Started Early, Took My Dog, by Kate Atkinson (yes, the same Kate Atkinson who wrote Life After Life). Part of the Jackson Brodie series, Started Early, Took My Dog is packed with human tragedies--numerous deaths (murders, accidents, suicides), child and animal abuse, dementia, family dysfunction, and buying and illegal adoption of children. It has numerous plots and subplots, many unresolved at the end of the book--but above all, it has wonderful characters who make us care about what happens to them.
Honorable Mention: The Husband's Secret, by Liane Moriarty (not sure it's really a mystery, but I'm going to say it is).
Best Short Stories
Signs and Wonders, by Alix Ohlin. Ohlin writes gracefully and develops strong characters within the confines of the short story format. Her subject matter is the development of identity, as an individual, a friend, a lover/spouse, and a parent, and her stories are both disturbing and poignant.
Honorable Mention: March Was Made of Yarn, edited by Elmer Luke and David Karashima (this collection of material written in the year after Japan's triple tragedies of 3/11/11 was by far my most- read post of the year).
Best Poetry Collection
Valentines, by Ted Kooser. A collection of light poems written for Valentine's Day and charmingly illustrated with pen and ink drawings by Robert Hanna. A joyous book.
Honorable Mention: 180 More, edited by Billy Collins, who lures people to poetry like no one else (except possibly Garrison Keillor).
Sister Mother Husband Dog Etc., by Delia Ephron. This book would be worth reading if it contained only the two moving essays about Ephron's late sister Nora. But it contains much more--sometimes funny, sometimes insightful, always entertaining.
Honorable Mention: Good Prose, by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd; I Can't Complain, by Elinor Lipman; In the Body of the World, by Eve Ensler; Mortality, by Christopher Hitchens; The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe -- it was a good year for nonfiction, even if much of it was nonfiction about illness and death.
Best Literary Moments of the Year
- Skyping with author Lisa See at our January Novel Conversations meeting. She was gracious, funny, and informative, and we remain somewhat stunned by and totally appreciative of her generosity in sharing her time and her spirit. It was a book group to remember!
- Seeing a friend from high school, Julie Santers, publish her first children's book. Charmingly illustrated by Brittany Weidner, Mimi's Tea Party is a lovely story, especially for grandmothers and grandchildren. Check it out on Amazon!