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This time of year, the “Best Books of the Year” lists are everywhere you look: in all the major newspapers, on all the blogs. I read a lot of new releases, but I tend to skip the blockbusters, and I am always discovering (or rediscovering) great books from other years.

kramerbooks interior washington dc

I wrote a post about my mid-year favorites back in June, but I’ve read a lot of books since then (total for the year: 239 and counting). So here are the books I loved the most this year.

Not all these books were published in 2013, but I read them all for the first time (except Best Reread) in 2013. Links are to my reading roundups, which contain brief reviews.

What were your favorite books this year?

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atozsurvey-1017x1024-297x300I saw this survey on my pen pal Jaclyn’s blog (it was originally created by Jamie), and thought it looked so fun. I love books and I love surveys – put ’em together and it’s perfection.

Author you’ve read the most books from: L.M. Montgomery. Anne Shirley, Emily Byrd Starr, Sara Stanley, Jane Stuart, Pat Gardiner – I love all her heroines. And Madeleine L’Engle – lots of her memoirs, books on writing and faith, and young adult novels.

Best Sequel Ever: Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery – even better than the original. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which breaks the series wide open. Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos is a fabulous companion to the original, Love Walked In.

Currently Reading: I’m revisiting Dorothy Sayers’ mysteries featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and his love, Harriet Vane. It’s been nine years since I first read them and I love them even more this time around.

Drink of Choice While Reading: Tea – either black flavored with spices and citrus, plain black tea with milk and sugar, or decaf/herbal (at night).

E-reader or Physical Book? Physical books. Always, always, always.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School: Someone kind and slightly nerdy. Remus Lupin? Atticus Finch? The usual handsome, confident heroes in books would have been too intimidating to shy teenage me.

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance: I was a Harry Potter skeptic for a long time. Once Val convinced me to try them, the books became some of my favorites. And Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand was utterly, unexpectedly spectacular.

Hidden Gem Book: The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice – a sweet, wise and witty story of two friends in 1950s London. No Children, No Pets – a fun summer tale, one of my favorite childhood books. Cynthia Voigt’s books about the Tillerman family (Homecoming, Dicey’s Song, etc.). Anne Fadiman’s brilliant little collection of bookish essays, Ex Libris. And Susan Hill’s wonderful bookish memoir, Howards End is on the Landing.

Important Moment in your Reading Life: I took a World Literature seminar during my senior year of college that exposed me to a dozen books I’d never have read otherwise – most of them powerful and heartbreaking. That class shifted my perspective in all kinds of important ways. And Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water was my “back door” introduction to her work. I later wrote my master’s thesis on her memoirs, and I have learned so much from her.

Just Finished: Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers; The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg; The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read: I’m not really a sci-fi or western fan. Also: no erotica or trashy romance novels.

Longest Book You’ve Read: Les Misérables, which I finally tackled this year (after many years of adoring the musical) and loved.

Major book hangover because of: Hmmm…I don’t know. My shelves and to-read stacks offer enough options that I can get past a book hangover pretty quickly.

Number of Bookcases You Own: Six. Three in the dining room, two in the bedroom, one in the guest bedroom. (Plus one built-in, and piles of books all over the place.)

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times: I’m an inveterate rereader – I reach for the Anne of Green Gables series, the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings, the Mitford series, my Advent book, and other favorites regularly.

Preferred Place To Read: Curled up on the sofa in my living room; in bed; on a park bench with a hot drink. I can’t say I adore reading on the subway, but I do a lot of it during my commute each day.

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read: There are many, but I wrote this summer about a phrase from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet: “I really and truly believe in God with all kinds of doubts.”

Reading Regret: So many books I’ve yet to read – but this isn’t a regret, it’s a possibility!

Series You Started And Need To Finish (all books are out in series): Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series; the Chronicles of Narnia.

Three of your All-Time Favorite Books: This whole survey is a love letter to my favorites – but I adore L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet, Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos, and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Unapologetic Fangirl For: Harry Potter; Betsy-Tacy; Anne of Green Gables; so many other favorite series.

Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others: Can’t pick just one. I can’t wait to read Ally Carter’s United We Spy, Elizabeth Wein’s Rose Under Fire, the latest Royal Spyness mystery, the latest Bess Crawford mystery, Kerstin Gier’s Emerald Green, and the new Jhumpa Lahiri novel.

Worst Bookish Habit: Piling up the to-be-read stacks until they teeter; specifically, going crazy at the library when I already have a dozen or more books waiting at home. I have no self-discipline in a library.

X Marks The Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book: The Count of Monte Cristo (on the fiction shelf).

Your latest book purchase: Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers (can’t get enough of Wimsey & Vane).

ZZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late): I stayed up far too late recently rereading Gaudy Night, Busman’s Honeymoon and Strong Poison (all Wimsey-Vane mysteries).

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Inevitably, my friends who are visiting Boston ask, “Where should we eat?” (My first response is usually, “Can we join you for a meal or two?”)

After three years, I know we haven’t tasted (ha) all the city has to offer, but we do have a few delicious favorites.

il villaggio boston interior

Our favorite foodie neighborhood, especially in the summer, is the North End, which is lined with delicious Italian restaurants. Il Villaggio (above) has amazing fettuccine alfredo; Ristorante Saraceno has the best meat lasagna I’ve ever had. These are both on Hanover Street, the neighborhood’s main drag. Between them is Caffe Vittoria, which offers yummy gelato and various tea/coffee drinks. It’s a nice place to sit, before or after dinner, and watch the world go by (see below).

book juice cafe

Mike’s Pastry, justly famous for its cannoli, is down the block from Ristorante Saraceno. It’s cash-only and usually packed (there are no lines, only a crowd), so most folks take their cannoli to go. (They do serve other pastries, but with a dozen flavors of cannoli, you’re sure to find something you like.)

mike's pastry interior

Salem Street, the North End’s other main drag, has a few tasty restaurants too – we like L’Osteria for a good plate of pasta, and our best friends love La Famiglia Giorgio’s for its enormous portions.

For brunch, we have two favorites: Cafe Luna in Central Square in Cambridge, which boasts delicious omelets, pancakes, waffles, etc. (see below):

cafe luna brunch cambridge pancakes

Our other favorite (more diner-ish but equally delicious) is the Paramount Cafe on Beacon Street, near the Common. Bacon, eggs, fruit pancakes (oh my word, the pancakes). You can also get sandwiches and burgers, but I never have. The breakfast is too good.

Dec 2010 037

For Thai food, we love Thai Basil on Newbury Street, and for crepes, I love the Paris Creperie in Brookline (they also have a roving food truck). I have a number of favorite cafes, and we’re always discovering new pleasures. But these are our tried-and-true places.

Where do you love to eat on vacation? (Or in Boston, if you’ve been here?)

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the bookstore lenox ma

I read a lot of books, people. A lot. And I can’t wait till the end of the year to share my favorites. So here are the highlights of my reading year so far. (Links are to the reading roundups in which I reviewed these titles more fully.)

What are your favorite books of the year so far?

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I’ve been an avid reader – and rereader – almost since I learned how to read. (Just ask my parents, who swear they read Ned’s Numbers to me a million times when I was a toddler.) I’ve read – and reread – hundreds of books since then, but a few of them have truly, powerfully changed the way I see the world. This list is not exhaustive, but contains a handful of the gems that marked some important shifts for me. (Inspired by Roxanne’s Books Well-Loved series.)

1. Little Women, first read when I was seven – the first story that completely, wholly absorbed me and made me want to read it again and again. (Which I did.)
2. Walking on Water, my “back-door” introduction to Madeleine L’Engle (now one of my favorite authors) and her oeuvre of beautifully written, thoughtful, moving books. (And, eventually, a topic for my master’s thesis.)
3. Watch for the Light, a book of Advent reflections that has shaped my relationship to liturgy, and indeed my faith.
4. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, which constantly pushes me to be more honest in my writing.
5. The Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron: given to me as a college graduation gift by J, it has powerfully shaped my creative life.
6. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which revolutionized the way I think about food and seasonal eating.
7. The Cool Girl’s Guide to Knitting by Nicki Trench, which helped reinforce a lot of the basics for me.
8. A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren, which introduced me to the concept of postmodern Christianity.
9. The reading list for my World Lit class, my senior year of college – most notably Saramago’s Blindness and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. Horrifying, heartbreaking, powerful stories with pitch-perfect writing, and so many different ways of seeing the world.

What books have changed your life?

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1. My Highland/ACU/Sojourners/Lifeteam/coffee-night family. (I squished all of them into one item because they often overlap.) I often wish I could beam myself to Abilene to hug one, two or a dozen of these folks.
2. Tuesday nights at Mezamiz, trading stories and drinking tea with some of my favorite ladies.
3. Random, hilarious gossip sessions in Amber’s office, with Amber and Amy and Tessa (no boys allowed).
4. Sunday mornings at Highland, singing on praise team and hearing Jay clap and hugging so, so many people before and after service. And the smart, funny, thought-provoking hour that is Sojourners class.
5. Sunday nights, at the Donagheys’ house or elsewhere, sharing communion and dinner and prayer and laughter and life.
6. Rosa’s Cafe. Particularly chips and queso.
7. Los Arcos – especially their homemade salsa and enchiladas.
8. Being able to drive anywhere in ten minutes.
9. Not having to worry about, or pay for, parking.
10. Always seeing someone I know when I’m out and about.
11. Yoga classes with McKay (though she, too, has now left Abilene).
12. ArtWalk, downtown every month.
13. Being two hours from my parents and sister, and three and a half from my grandparents.
14. High school football games.
15. Knowing where everything is.
16. Game nights with our crew of friends.
17. Lunches with Julie and other girlfriends.

I do love our new life in Boston. But I miss Abilene, which was home for eight years, and in some ways will always be home.

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list #39: my favorite sounds

1. A whistling teakettle.
2. A cappella singing, especially at Brookline or Highland, or in anyone’s living room with people I love.
3. My pen scratching across the paper.
4. Wind chimes.
5. Swing music.
6. Waves lapping on the shore.
7. Church bells (the Sacred Heart church, down the street, chimes beautifully and often).
8. Babies laughing.
9. Typewriter keys.
10. The wind in my face and hair when I ride a bike.
11. Puppies snoring.
12. The words “I love you.”

How about yours?

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