Looking back at everything I read in 2013, it’s hard to pick favorites. There are obvious trends in my reading that I never noticed until I started shelving books on GoodReads. I knew I liked historical fiction, but I had no idea how many historical mysteries I read until I saw the numbers. Evidently I really gravitate towards those! Also, I’ve discovered that the half-modern, half-historical mystery/adventure hybrid books that I could never find a name for do, in fact, have a genre. They are evidently called timeslip novels. So it seems to me that the easiest way to narrow down my best books of 2013 is to pick my favorite book from each of those 3 categories.
Historical Fiction: A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn
From the publisher’s description, I was expecting a book about a spoiled little rich girl who is exiled to Kenya for bad behavior, and falls in love with a man who is different enough to make her settle down. I probably would have enjoyed that book. But what I actually got was SO much more, and so much better. Yes, Delilah starts off the spoiled little rich girl, but she is infinitely more complex than that. Every time I thought I had Delilah all figured out, I learned something that forced me to think again. Delilah is a walking contradiction, and it’s impossible to put any sort of label on her. This isn’t a trite story about a bad girl with a heart of gold. Delilah is damaged and difficult, and I hated her and loved her in turns. I really enjoy a heroine who keeps me on my toes, and Delilah certainly delivered.
Deanna does a great job with her description of 1920s Kenya. She dips into a little of everything – politics, culture, the white “club” society, the tribal dynamics, and life on safari. Loved it, cover to cover.
Historical Mystery: The Paris Affair by Teresa Grant
Picking up almost immediately where Grant’s previous book, Imperial Scandal left off, The Paris Affair drops Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch in the midst of post-Waterloo Paris, where political intrigue and danger abound. Grant doesn’t waste any time setting up her story. Before the end of the first chapter, Malcolm and Suzanne have blackmail, a hidden child, a foiled assassination plot, and a corpse on their hands.
One of Grant’s biggest assets as a writer is her ability to place you seamlessly into her setting. She also has a gift for making her readers feel like they are participants in the story, working right alongside Suzanne and Malcolm. And on a more trivial note, good GRIEF do her dress descriptions make me wish I lived in the early 1800s. Some of my favorite characters in the first and second books were back again, and I enjoyed watching Grant expand on their backgrounds, their relationships, and their hopes for the future. My personal favorite, the incomparable Wilhelmine, Duchess of Sagan, is back in all her glory. You don’t have to read the first two books in the series to enjoy this one, but I would recommend them simply because they’re great stories!
Timeslip: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley
There are two stories at the heart of The Firebird. In the modern-day story, Nicola Marter is a woman who has the gift of psychometry. She can touch objects and see glimpses of people who owned them in the past. When Nicola touches the wooden figurine of the firebird, the tug of its past is so strong that she has an inadvertent vision of its history. This vision sets her off on a journey to discovery the truth about the firebird’s origins. Nicola also reaches out to Rob, a former flame whose power of psychometry is more practiced than her own, for help with her journey.
The historical story involves Anna, a child whose family is so entangled in Jacobite politics that, for her own safety, she is sent from home to an adopted family, to a convent in Ypres, to France, and eventually to Russia. As a child, Anna learns some hard lessons about who she can trust, and she grows into a young lady who is well-adjusted and well-mannered but guards her heart ferociously. When Anna meets Edmund O’Connor, she begins to wonder if she’s truly the good judge of people and their motives that she considers herself.
Kearsley is a fabulously talented writer. I’m very particular (and sometimes unfairly judgmental) about books that have supernatural elements, but I enjoyed reading about psychometry. I found the concept interesting, and Kearsley’s way of moving between time periods felt fluid to me. When I finished this book, I had the feeling that I can only describe as “book catharsis.”
Several of the other books I read in 2013 are worthy of an Honorable Mention (doesn’t THAT sound official?), but more on those later. I’ll share two final things before I close for the day. First, Joshilyn Jackson’s newest novel Someone Else’s Love Story is on sale for $1.99 today on both Kindle and Nook. Let me tell you, that is a bargain. As someone who already owns the hardcover, I might just buy the e-book too! And lastly, I saw a good Buzzfeed book list today that got me excited about a few books that are coming to the big screen in 2014. Gillian Flynn is on here TWICE. I may have to read Gone Girl.