Year End Book List — the NEXT 25

Every season is reading season.

Every season is reading season.

Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas, or that you went out and ate a lot of Chinese food, or did whatever it is you like to do on December 25th.  All was quiet (and lovely).  Some reading, a walk, an afternoon movie and then turkey dinner with candles and seasonal music and the fancy china with my Best Beloved and the Rescuepoo.  Topped off by watching old I Love Lucy episodes and reading in bed.  Pretty much perfect.

So, my last blog talked about the first 25 books I read this year, from January to April.  Here’s the list for the next 25, read from May to September.  If there’s a link it’ll take you to and my more in-depth review.  If I loved the book, it’s in bold.  Hope you find some interesting reading here.

26.  The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering a Felt Presence of God By Ronald Rolheiser — Not quite enough ‘light’ and a bit too much finger wagging. I’ll go back to Thomas Merton.

27. Malarky By Anakana Schofield — Intriguing, complex and rewarding. Both the point of view and the voice are compelling. We’re going to be hearing a lot more from Anakana Schofield!

28. The Thing about Thugs By Tabish Khair — This book, set in Victorian London, is full of imagination (and grave robbers and serial killers and opium dens), but the structure is so disorganized, the characters so poorly drawn and the narrative so meandering that it doesn’t, in the end, make for either an enjoyable or meaningful read. Stories within stories, letters and diaries and ill-formed scraps all barely holding together.  It’s a pity, since the writer is obviously clever. He let this story — which has much potential — get away from him.

29. Candle in the Darkness: Celtic Spirituality from Wales By Patrick Thomas — A history of Welsh Celtic spirituality that succeeds in communicating the inner meanings and relevance of the Welsh saints but avoids descending into the new-age silliness. Nice work.

30. Walking Zero By Chet Raymo — Raymo’s one of my favorite writers. Here, he ‘talks’ as he walks the prime meridian and his focus moves outward, until it we’re off the stars. Such a diverse range of topics and such vast knowledge that it’s both inspiring & humbling.

31. The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdich — Exploring the legacy of murder & racism, Erdrich writes prose filled with stunning, magical images.

32. The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin – There’s no doubt this book will offend some folks, but that’s a pity. What a glorious, earthy, REAL woman Toibin has created in this Mary. She’s so much more than the bloodless virgin of myth.

33. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt – Terrific book, with equals measures of charm, violence, wit and absurdity.

34. Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairytale by Fredrick Buechner — Good read, particularly the fairy tale section. Geared, however, to Christians and to preachers in particular.

35. The Pattern Scars by Caitlin Sweet — Nicely done. Turns expectations of the fantasy genre upside down. Lovely prose, and an ending that actually brought a tear to my eye. Chizine is turning out to be a very interesting publishing house – full of odd, scary, and intriguing work, beautiful rendered.

36. Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews by James Carroll – Examines how the fusion of a religion opposed to power with power itself is the core of the corruption of Christianity. Powerful reading.

37. The Showings by Julian of Norwich — Julian of Norwich still stands out as one of the most essential Christian mystics.  An anchoress who lived in solitude in Norwich, England, in the late 14th century, Julian’s book consists of the 16 “showings” or revelations from God. This books contains her writings on those “showings”. The most famous of her visions is that of the entire universe as she gazed into a tiny hazelnut.  She writes simply and with simple images and the effect is beautiful.  “God almighty is our loving Father,” she writes, “and God all wisdom is our loving Mother.” She tells us, “our substance is in God, and … God is in our sensuality.” For Julian God is the foundation of all that is, and the foundation of God is love. As she concludes, “What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love.”

38. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker — Wonderfully imaginative. Pacing lags slightly in the middle, but the end makes perseverance worthwhile. Recommended.

39. Prayer of the Heart in Christian and Sufi Mysticism By Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee — For both Christians and Sufis (the mystical branch of Islam), although I can’t imagine it wouldn’t offer something to interested people from other traditions as well.  I read this little book slowly, because I wanted the ideas to sink in.  The book combined Vaughan-Lee’s personal experience with writings ranging from St Teresa of Avila to Rumi to Carl Jung.  This is not an academic treatise, but rather a poetic exploration, with some wonderful practical advice on daily prayer. To be reminded of the idea of God as “the Beloved” was a real gift.    

40. David by Ray Robertson — Robertson’s a master at creating wonderful characters and perfect historical details. LOVED this book.

41. Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women And Alcohol By Ann D Johnston — Candid and well-researched, Ann Johnston makes a significant contribution to the important conversation about women and alcohol.

42. Sleeping Funny by Miranda Hill — Although the themes of of these stories — family, love, loss, belonging — are familiar, Hill’s takes are fresh and witty. Recommended.

43. Imagining Virginia Woolf: An Experiment in Critical Biography By Maria DiBattista — Woolf lives in the mind of the reader as a “cluster of distinct yet complementary identities.” DiBattista is a lovely writer, full of wit, sensitivity & intimacy. A downright fascinating read.

44. After Life by Rhian Ellis — Well told tale by a writer with a great eye for significant detail. Particularly good, credible ending.

45. Indignation by Philip Roth — Pure Roth — a coming of age narrator who speaks to us after death (or perhaps at a prolonged moment of dying, the end is ambiguous) relating his father’s break-down and paranoia (which turns out to be justified given the state of the narrator), the Jewish narrator’s alienation in the heart of white-bread, corn-fed America and, of course, his sexual awakening.

46. Burial by Claire Donato — Set in the mind of a narrator grieving her father’s loss, she might be in the morgue, she might be in a hotel room and the characters she encounters might not exist. That’s all the plot there is. A mourning mind wrapped tight in lyrical prose — intelligent and brave. Claire Donato clearly has a poet’s sensibility, and a prima word-ballerina she is.

47. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman — Even with POV & credibility problems, I found myself thoroughly engaged in the moral dilemmas and the character development. The descriptions of landscape are lovely and form a fine backdrop and mirror for the characters’ emotions. It’s quite sensuous and well-paced. A fine book for a lazy weekend afternoon by the sea.

48. God Without God: Western Spirituality Without the Wrathful King By Michael Hampson — an intriguing and thoughtful book that challenges the assumptions between atheist and believer.

49. The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America By Thomas King — Required reading for anyone interested in “Indian” issues, what’s really at stake, and how it all came to be. 

50. The Professor of Truth by James Robertson — a thought-provoking portrayal of grief, loss, injustice and the tragedy of someone imprisoned by his certainty. This link will take you to my review on

I’ll post the last books in a few days.  Until then. . . happy reading.  (Would love to hear what books thrilled YOU this year.)


  1. Leslie Grant on December 28, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Lauren, thanks for this inpiring list. I was also intrigued by a number of the books in your earlier blog with 25 reviews, so looks like I’m going to have a full reading list for 2014.
    And I”m also happy to say I’ve also added The Empty Room to my priority reading list … I just saw that you were included in The National Post’s picks for the best books for 2013, congratulations!
    Wishing you continued success for 2014, and look forward to reading more from you.

    • Lauren B. Davis on December 28, 2013 at 4:22 pm

      You’re most welcome, Leslie. And thanks for the congrats on The National Post’s list. I was honestly surprised to see that and delighted, of course. Happy reading and all the best for 2014. L.

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