Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Thursday Thirteen #343

My 13 favorite books of 2023. I read 46 books last year. According to my Goodreads stats, my average rating for a book this year  was 3.5. So here are 13 of the books I ranked 4 stars or higher.

 1. Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi. This is the exhaustive and, to my mind, definitive debunking of conspiracies surrounding the JFK assassination. According to Goodreads, at 1,612 pages, it's also the longest book I read this year. (5 stars)

2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. This was a reread for me, and it was just as powerful this time. It is not a just-the-facts-ma'am Dateline retelling of the Clutter Family murder, which I suspect younger readers want. It's a haunting, beautiful, ugly and important book from 1965. (5 stars)

3. Little Girl Blue by Randy L. Schmidt. This biography of Karen Carpenter broke my heart. A supremely talented singer and almost accidental star, she had none of the maturity or defenses to survive stardom, or her dysfunctional family. I liked this book more than many in the Goodreads community, but I stand by my 5-star rating.

4. Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld. What fun this one was! I knew the bare bones of the plot going in, and it was very entertaining to go along with Sittenfeld for the ride as the Bennet girls navigate finance, romance and reputation in the new millennium. (5 stars)

5. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I'm surprised I ending up liking this book as much as I did. It's told as an oral history of a fictional 70s band and I found that off-putting and confusing at first. But by the time it was over, I found I missed the women and was so desperate to know what ultimately became of them, it was as though they were real. (5 stars)

6. Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry. This memoir isn't especially well-written but its honesty and vulnerability won me over. Matthew Perry cut himself no slack; he understood what he had and what he threw away because of his addictions. His self-awareness and basic good nature shines through and made me root for him. His death, six months after I finished it, broke my heart because I wanted him to thrive and survive. RIP, Matty. (5 stars)

7. Golden Girl: The Story of Jessica Savitch by Alanna Nash. She's almost forgotten now, but in the early 1980s, Jessica Savitch was our It Girl. She was the only woman on the list of America's most trusted network anchors. When the red light came on, she came through, most notably with her live coverage of the airport assassination at Jonestown airport. Her blonde beauty graced magazine covers. She had a massive contract that paid her not only in money but in limos and hairdressers. Then poof! She was gone. Dead in a car crash at 36. What makes her story tragic and searing is the chasm between the public and private. Her ambition was so ferocious and her personal life so tumultuous and reckless that the car accident seemed almost like a blessing. She was on the verge of losing everything she worked so hard for, and at least she was spared that public humiliation. A real-life cautionary tale: Don't wish too hard for what you want, or you might get it.  (4 stars)

8. The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene. Nancy Drew #1, the book that started me on the road to loving mystery stories. It was fun to revisit it for the first time since second grade. While I recalled nothing of the mystery, I remembered the day-to-day of Nancy's life: like her blue car and the delicious breakfasts whipped up for her by the family housekeeper.  Considering that it was written for kids, it's better plotted than it needed to be. (4 stars)

9. Eisenhower: The White House Years by Jim Newton. He was POTUS when I was born, but I knew very little about him. In fact, I knew more about Ike as general than I did as President. This book is linear, straightforward, and informative. I know more about post-war America than I did before and I'm better for it. I hope to read more about Eisenhower in 2024. (4 stars)

10. Churchill by Jacob Bannister. Before I read this book, Winston Churchill was like a cartoon character to me. I knew his face, I knew his voice, I knew his cigar and bowler hat. He was buds with FDR. I understood that the Brits revere him. But that's it, really. What an amazing life he had! He accomplished so much while battling depression. This is a high-level, almost Cliff's Notes version of his life (just 235 pages), but it is what I was looking for. I gave it 4 stars as much for Churchill himself as for the way his story is told here.

11. The Girls by Emma Cline. 14-year-old Evie is horny, confused and lonely. She just so happens to be at the park one day and sees The Girls -- braless hippie chicks in granny glasses, they seemed to free, so cool, so happy that Evie longs to join them. God help her, she gets her wish. Soon she's living with them on a ranch just outside town, where a madman teaches them about sex, drugs and murder. Based on the Manson Family, it was a dark, seductive book. It disturbed me deeply, so while I appreciated it, I didn't enjoy it. (4 stars)

12. Murder in an Irish Village by Carlene O'Connor. Book 1 of a new-to-me mystery series. I was introduced to the O'Sullivan Six of Kilbane and fell in love. They're a clan of siblings, kids still mourning their parents who died together in a car crash. The oldest girl, Siobhan, has put her dreams of university on hold as she tries to hold the family and the family business together. Siobhan is doing OK but she needs help. What she doesn't need is to find a dead body on the premises one morning. I read the second book in the series this year, too. (4 stars)

13. An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena. Wow. What thrilling story telling! Guests check into a secluded luxury hotel. A storm hits. They're stranded without electricity, internet or phone. People start dying. Now what? It's not an original premise. At all. But that didn't stop me from being all in, and it ends with a twist that no one could see coming, yet makes absolute sense. (4 stars)

Please join us for THURSDAY THIRTEEN. Click here to play along, and to see other interesting compilations of 13 things.