Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Kate B’s Picks

Though I haven’t reviewed a lot of books for the blog this year, I certainly have read many!  Although I read a broad variety of fiction, I tend to gravitate toward suspense and mystery titles, as well as any book that pays a lot of attention to the narrator’s thoughts and “inner life.”  I also enjoy reading nonfiction, especially memoirs and focused history.  My favorite “new to me” books of 2013 definitely reflect these reading preferences, and here they are in no particular order!

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
One morning, recently-retired Harold Fry is surprised by a letter from a friend he hasn’t heard from in more than twenty years.  Queenie Hennessey, an old colleague, is in hospice care in Berwick-upon-Tweed – about as far from Harold’s town of Kingsbridge as you can get.  Touched by Queenie’s letter, Harold pens a reply and, donning a light anorak and his leather yachting shoes, sets off for the mailbox.  He passes two, then three mailboxes… and as he walks farther and farther from home and his wife Maureen, Harold wonders why he doesn’t just go to Berwick-upon-Tweed and deliver his letter to Queenie personally.  By the end of the day, Harold has convinced himself that as long as he keeps walking north to his old friend, she will survive her illness.  Joyce writes a sparse, allegorical narrative that is told almost entirely within the confines of Harold’s mind.  I listened to the audiobook on a six-hour road trip.  Jim Broadbent’s narration is top-notch, and the story itself is perfectly suited to a long drive.

Still Life by Louise Penny
I’m a sucker for a good detective series, and had been meaning to give Louise Penny’s Agatha Award-winning Armand Gamache series a try for a couple of years.  Three Pines is a sleepy town outside Montreal, unremarkable to all but those who inhabit it.  The police force doesn’t have much to do… until early one morning, the elderly but spry Jane Neal is found dead on a quiet path where she usually walks her dog.  Although it first seems that a hunting accident was the cause of her death, but the more Gamache and his team investigate, the less things add up.  The book is atmospheric with a flavor that is both autumnal and decidedly Quebecois, making it an excellent companion to a hot beverage and a warm blanket!

Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
Pots, pans, stoves, and ovens might seem like the most basic of kitchen equipment to us.  But after reading this history of kitchen technology, you’ll marvel at the ingenuity of the people who figured out that by putting something between food and flame, and by containing the heat, we can improve flavor and get different resulting textures.  This book is full of moments where the reader is invited to think about the origins of everyday kitchen objects that have shaped the way we cook, the way our homes are structured, and ultimately, how we live our lives.  For foodies, technology junkies, and history buffs alike, this is a must-read that’s divided into manageable chunks.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
This is a classic in the suspense genre that somehow, I hadn’t gotten around to reading until this year.  It was well worth the wait!  The unnamed heroine has just married Maxim de Winter, a wealthy and kind widower with whom she is deeply in love.  Everything seems perfectly ordinary until she moves into Manderley and meets Mrs. Danvers, the rather sinister housekeeper who seems to spend the majority of her time ensuring that everything in the house is exactly as it was on the day Rebecca – Maxim’s first wife – died.  It’s not difficult to see why Alfred Hitchcock chose this book as one of his first film adaptations.  The book’s slow start and emotional climax are hallmarks of Hitchcock’s work and help add to the inherent creepiness of the story!

Mimus by Lillie Thal
As a young adult novel set in a Middle Ages without magic, dwarves, witches or unicorns, Mimus is unique from the start!  In a peace negotiation gone wrong, King Philip is kidnapped by a rival kingdom’s army, and later so is Philip’s son Prince Florin.  In a cruel act of humiliation, the enemy ruler assigns Florin to be a fool, studying under the court jester Mimus.  If Florin doesn’t perform the songs, jokes, and impressions his mentor writes, it will mean torture and punishment for him and his father – but every song mocks his father and every joke has his homeland as the punchline.  Can Florin let his guard down long enough to learn who Mimus really is – and how he can save his home kingdom?  Packed with philosophical conversations between Florin and Mimus, along with several action sequences, this book will appeal to adult fans of historical fiction as well as teenaged ones.

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