Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Ten Books Read in 2013 and more

Thinking over 2013: this has been a tremendous year in many ways, but also a really difficult year, testing my family in some severe ways. I think one of the biggest things I've learned this year is patience (sometimes against my will!) Some difficult things you can't attack head on: you just have to quietly face them and live through them, and putting up a good attitude is key to weathering the storm.

But in the book and writing department, it's been a stellar year. I continue to discover books that thrill me and others that make me think in news ways (and sometimes, a single book does both). My writing is reaching a new level, I think, having placed in some contests and beginning to get responses from agents.

I cheated and listed my top 12 books instead of top 10. And I've just added my top ten characters as a separate list, too.

12. Eleanor & Park (2013) by Rainbow Rowell.
A unique love story: falling in love on a school bus? Without even talking? Loved it... but loved the ending especially. I do recommend this book with some caveats so please check out my review.

11. Catch Rider (2013) by Jennifer Lyne
I've read a dozen stories like this, but I never get tired about reading about an underdog, and this book had the advantage of Sidney, a feisty main character with a really strong voice, and a setting that sets it apart.

10. Incarceron (2007) by Catherine Fisher
Not just one but two excellent fantasy concepts intertwined: a living prison and a futuristic world forced to go back to the medieval ages. And a brilliant twist at the ending.

9. Lirael (2003) by Garth Nix
Everything I loved from the two opposite worlds in the first book, plus some fantastic new world building (the Library!) and characters: the Disreputable Dog, especially.

8. Kisses From Katie (2011) by Katie J. Davis.
This is non-fiction, a stunning story about an 18 year old girl who left behind a cushy American lifestyle and dared to move to Uganda to help orphans there. I cried twice reading this.

7. The Time Fetch (2013) by Amy Herrick. I just love eccentric characters that naturally repel each other but when circumstances bring them together, there is a synergy of nerdy fizzy chemistry.  A great combination of space-time fabric, folklore, fairytale, superstition, science, and delicious food. 

6. Code Name Verity (2012) by Elizabeth Wein
What blows my mind about this book is that so much of it is real. Yes, it's fiction, but it's like living through World War II in England and occupied France, with so much gritty, sharp detail.  I was totally immersed. 

5. The Queen of Attolia (2006) by Megan Whalen Turner
I can barely say a thing about this book without hinting at the surprise direction it takes; I can't even give a hint for risk of giving away too much. While this is a sequel, it stands just fine on its own.

4. The Archived (2013) by Victoria Schwab
Absolutely brilliant, creepy premise: the memories of the dead preserved in living copies called Histories. There are some deep themes running in this story, great characters, beautiful prose, action, twists, love, love, love! Can't wait for the sequel!

3. These Broken Stars (2013) by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. Titanic in space. Love story. Survival story. Great voice. Smart science fiction. Love story.  Even better than Titanic love story.

2. Doomsday Book (1992) by Connie Willis
A powerful contrast of two time periods: a plague in futuristic England and the terrible Black Death in 1300's England. A huge cast of characters that all stood out vibrantly, intriguing science fiction and powerful themes. A long book but absolutely absorbing: I easily could have kept reading. This book is a Hugo and Nebula award winner.

1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone (2011) by Laini Taylor
I practically wrote a dissertation instead of a review for this one: it was beautiful, daring, a multi-dimensional love story, a wild plot, it hit nerves, it had incredible settings, and absolutely unforgettable characters: Karou and Brimstone especially.

Favorite characters:

10. Tarver and Lilac, from These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (2013). On their own, these characters were good (great voices), but put these opposites together and they really flared! Same with Eleanor and Park, too.

9. Lala, from Burning, by Elana K. Arnold. Lala’s voice is distinct: analytical and thoughtful and a touch formal. I wasn't sure what to expect from a modern-day Gypsy girl  who is also caught in the past of her very strict Roma family, that rejects almost everything about American culture. But she fascinated me.

8. Olivia, from the Secret Ingredient by Stewart Lewis. A teeanger who hates cell phones and Facebook? My KIND OF GIRL!!! But mostly I loved her voice, for her thoughts and ideas that wander all over the place.

7. Sidney, from Catch Rider by Jennifer Lyne.  I fell in love with Sidney Criser not just because she's an underdog, but because she's poor and smart, tough and stubborn, full of attitude but not snarky. She's a little bit of a redneck, but she also has this really neat way of seeing the world

6. Wesley, from The Archived, by Victoria Schwab. So I'll admit it, I'm a sucker for a tall, dark and brooding guy. So Wesley was a surprise. He's tall, dark and funny. He immediately won me over with his back-and-forth banter and what he does at the end of this story made me suck my breath in: gutsy! 

5. Verity, from Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. She played three different roles in this story, and it took a while for me to get used to her (the book has a very odd point of view). But here's a taste of why I loved Verity:
She cocked her blue cap back at a hellish angle. "High time they put the RAF in kilts," she remarked, flipping the hem of her uniform skirt disdainfully.
4. Augustus from The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green.  I loved Augustus because he was so darn SMART and his metaphors just made me laugh and shake my head at the same time: like, how did you make that connection, boy? Are you for real? Who cares, I love you anyway. 

3. Eugenides (Gen), from the Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. I liked him in his first book, Queen's Thief, (snarky, clever, resourceful) but he gained all new humble and brave dimensions in this book that made me really fall in love.

2. Brimstone, from Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor.   I just loved that his title was “The Wishmonger” – and I loved his gruffness and gentleness and ugliness (he's a monster. Sort of) and mystery. He’s a Gandalf kind of character, and that is the highest possible compliment I can give to a character.  Sadly, he does not show up in the sequel. 

1. Karou, from Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor. I loved that Karou loved to buy or make gifts for her friends. I loved the tricks that she played, but that she also felt bad about what she did and tried to fix it. I loved her loneliness and her lostness and her “be that cat” moments. I loved how she learned and changed with the wishes she made. As much as I loved the first book, I'm not as big a fan of the sequel. Karou is quite a different character in the second one, but my heart breaks for her, and I am hopeful for the final book coming out in 2014. 

What's your favorite book and/or character from 2013?


  1. a good heads-up on books I haven't read--thanks. I'm especially drawn to Code Name Verity, since I lean more to historical fiction. Happy new year. hopefully some of those storm clouds you've experienced lighten up a bit this year :-)

  2. What a wonderful list~ many that I still need to read, so thanks for listing them!

  3. Thanks for such a wonderful share of books. I do much of my reading by recommendations, and this gave me a treasure trove. Thanks for stopping by my blog, too, and commenting. Hope you have a stellar 2014.

  4. I have heard really good things about Code Name Verity, so I need to read it ASAP!

    I got "The Archived" for my daughter for Christmas and she already started reading it. Thanks for the recommendation!

  5. So many great books here! I've read or plan to read most of them, but my favorite books for 2013? I read about 100 of them, and it's really hard to pick out just a couple.

    The Prisoner of Cell 25, Enders Game, Butterman Time Travel, Givin' Up the Ghost (Gwen Gardner), The 13th Floor Complete Collection, Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles), The Iron Butterfly (Chanda Hahn), Bree Despain's Dark Divine series, Open Minds, Shadow and Bone... There were so many others I enjoyed, but these were definitely some of the highlights.

  6. Your news about your writing is terrific! I pray this year you see even more results!

  7. Your thoughtful lists make me realize what a terrible reader I am. I read, and then I forget unless it comes up again. I really enjoyed Pivot Point by Kasie West. When I read the premise, I thought, "cool, but how can you make that into a whole novel?" She does it BRILLIANTLY. And darn if I can't think of the boy's name in that book, but he was just pretty awesome (see what I mean about being a thoughtless reader?!!)

  8. I have Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Started reading it, but never finished. I can't remember why. Maybe I should pick it up again. Happy New Year!

  9. I can't believe you hadn't read Garth Nix's trilogy or Queen of Attolia until this year!! I reread the trilogy pretty much every year, it's definitely one the series I need to have with me. And Queen of Attolia was crazy right?! I've been meaning to reread the series especially since I discovered there are more than 3 books!

  10. I'm reading the second book in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, Days of Blood and Starlight. Just as perfect as the first. I have to say Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins and Every Day by David Levithan were my happy place this year. Just downloaded Eleanor and Park. Can't wait to dig in.



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