bookish posts reviews

2013 in books, part 6: Conclusion

Every year my reading goal is simple: 365, one book a day. This year…ahahahaha. Yeah. My grand total is 284, which is certainly respectable but nowhere near my (usually quite attainable) goal. I think this is due to a few things: a slow start to the reading year, a very busy fall, and the fact that many of the Cybils books I “read” weren’t actually completed and therefore are not included in my count. Regardless, I’m happy with so many of the books I read this year, that I don’t really mind.

{Stats paragraph: How did I get 284? I count each chapter book I read, but not picture books. I count every re-read as a separate book, both through my reading history (so a book I read in 2011 and then in 2012 is counted twice) and during the year (the year I read Jellicoe Road 3 times, I counted it 3 times). This is because I fundamentally believe that each time you read a book, you’re reading it in a new and different way. I don’t keep track of the percentage of new vs. re-reads, but my rereads have been in decline the past few years.}

I wrote a number of posts that weren’t just straight book reviews–some book related, some not. Here are the links to my favorites:
– Two posts about my dad: Six months later and one year later
– My first guest post! For Chachic’s EWein Special Ops week, I talked about being brave
A post about mysteries
A round-up of my ALA experience
A review of Thor 2
A round-up of Code Name Verity covers from different countries and editions
On CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner books
A review of The Hobbit part 1
What to read after Howl’s Moving Castle
All of the library displays I’ve posted for the past year
All of my Made & Making posts
“Dirge Without Music”, which is a poem that has run through my head ever since I read an eARC of Rose Under Fire
My Blogger Appreciation series
All of the Top Ten Tuesdays I’ve participated in
All of my Armchair BEA posts

bookish posts reviews

2013 in books, part 5: children’s fiction

With one significant quibble (Jane, why oh why), I found The Lost Kingdom by Matthew Kirby to be a great middle grade novel, especially for readers who want a combination of history and fantasy and adventure.

I loved the Kat Stephenson books by Stephanie Burgis, so I was excited for Stolen Magic to come out. It didn’t disappoint; I loved the resolution and the way that Kat grew up but also remained firmly in middle grade territory.

Historical fantasy is one of my favorite things, and The Peculiar and The Whatnot by Stefan Bachmann are wonderful examples of middle grade historical fantasy done right. A gorgeously written duology.

Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud is a lovely beginning to a series. By turns eerie, funny, and spooky, this is a book that was a joy to read.

I re-read The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper for the first time in years. This was a fascinating experience, since the series was really important to me at one point.

Jinx by Sage Blackwood was one of my favorite books of the year in any category. I loved the characters (especially Sophie!) and the world and the lovely writing. The sequel, Jinx’s Magic, is out soon and I’ll have a review up next week (spoiler: YAY!).

Hilary McKay’s books are absolutely some of my favorites, so when I heard about Binny for Short, I was really excited. Binny is a lovely book, full of McKay’s trademark humor and warmth.

Doll Bones by Holly Black got quite a bit of buzz when it was first published, for good reason. It’s beautifully written, and underneath the story of the quest is an examination of friendship and growing up.

I’ve been meaning to read Merrie Haskell’s The Princess Curse for a few years and I’m glad I finally got to it. Fairy tale retellings are one of my favorite things, and this was a nice version of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” told from a very unique point of view.

I LOVED The Inquisitor’s Apprentice and The Watcher in the Shadows by Chris Moriarty. Alternate New York in the early 1900s, where magic is real but illegal? With a fun cast of characters and illustrations that reminded me of the All of a Kind series? Shut up and take my money! (Well, not literally, since I checked them out of the library.)

Picture Books
If You Want to See a Whale by Erin Stead and Julie Fogliano is absolutely one of my favorite books for the year. I love Stead’s delicate illustrations and Fogliano’s beautifully poetic text.

One of my happy surprises for the year was Journey by Aaron Becker. I loved this wordless picture book, with its gorgeous illustrations and details to pour over.

The New Arrival by Vanya Nastanlieva is a charming book. Also, it features a small hedgehog named Sam. How could I possibly not like it?

I discovered the Bill and Pete books, by Tomie De Paola, this year. My favorite is Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile, but all of them are delightful.

bookish posts reviews

2013 in books, part 3: YA speculative fiction

Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow is not only one of my top books of the year, it’s probably one of my top books ever. I realize that’s a strong claim to make, but it is basically all of my favorite things wrapped up in beautiful, lyrical language and a wonderful story. I could hardly breathe at certain points, let alone think about putting the book down.

I’ve been reading Miriam Forster’s blog for several years, from before she even had an agent, so I was probably somewhat predisposed to like City of a Thousand Dolls. But also, awesome worldbuilding, plus a mystery, plus a great main character? I am a fan of all of those. I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel!

It takes a lot for a story to surprise me at this point, but Passion Blue by Victoria Strauss did it. I loved the way it refused to take the easy, obvious choices, and instead presented complex characters with real reasons for their actions and decisions.

You know, I’ve tried to be very thoughtful and critical in these posts. But Untold basically reduces me to saying, “Sarah Rees Brennan! How could you do that? Why?” Second books in trilogies are often tricky propositions. SRB took this challenge and dealt with it by upping the stakes and leaving us with an ending that had me wanting to throw the book across the room.

A new Robin McKinley book is always a cause for joy, and maybe a little bit of nerves. Fortunately, I genuinely enjoyed Shadows, her latest. Maggie is a great heroine, stubborn and prickly but also determined to do the right thing. I loved the shadows and her animals and the romance.

Of all the books on this list, Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox is perhaps the one I’m most conflicted about. I completely loved Cammie and the world, the way the magic worked, the sheer beauty of the writing, the way it takes on the weight of both personal and national history. But the pacing and plot didn’t work quite as well for me, especially in the middle. I still love it a LOT, and highly recommend it, but I wish that love weren’t smudged by that issue.

Oh, The Dream Thieves. Oh, Maggie Stiefvater. I was so genuinely worried about all the characters the whole time I read this book, because I had no idea what was about to happen, and it seemed so likely to go wrong. I still don’t know what’s going to happen, and just thinking about it stresses me out. Stop making me care so much!

After the way Crown of Embers ended, I couldn’t wait for The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson to come out. I was impressed by how well Carson wove the different strands of her story together; I feel like I need to go back and read the earlier books because I’ll see them in a different light. I loved Elisa and the resolution of her journey.

The Pirate’s Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke is the sequel to last year’s Assassin’s Curse. I enjoyed them both a lot, but thought that The Pirate’s Wish did a better job of getting beneath the surface and really showing interesting and complex characters. I liked the journeys that Ananna took, and the romance worked for me.

I don’t think we have enough good YA science fiction. Fortunately, there’s Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson, a sequel/companion book to last year’s Ultraviolet. Tori isn’t Alison; she’s a much more straightforward narrator in a certain way. But in both cases, Anderson creates a wonderful main character who is coming to terms with something uncomfortable in herself. I loved this book a lot–it’s clever and witty, but full of heart. (Also, full of awesome romances!)

bookish posts reviews

2013 in books, part 2: YA realistic fiction

For the first time ever, I’m separating my YA post into two–realistic fiction and speculative fiction. This is mostly due to the fact that I read more realistic fiction than I normally do in a given year. The fact that I was a Round 1 judge for the YA Fiction category in the Cybils is definitely a factor, since it pushed me outside my comfortable SFF zone and challenged me to read books that I probably would have gotten to in, oh, a few years. Maybe.

Of course, some books I would have read anyway, and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein definitely one of them. I’ve talked about this book quite a bit already, so I’ll just say that I’m still thinking about it. Every time I see a Hershey bar, or red nail polish. It’s stayed with me in a way that few other books have.

Really, this is also true for Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn, which I was seriously impressed by. I didn’t know much about it when I read it, and I think that was a huge help, because this book is so much more than the sum of its parts. Win’s story is both open and vulnerable, and yet constantly camoflaging and eliding the truth. He’s my favorite kind of unreliable narrator–the kind who is hiding even from himself. I loved this book, and Win’s journey.

Like Charm & Strange, Carrie Mesrobian’s Sex & Violence is a debut, and an impressive one at that. Its subject matter is dark, as is made abundantly obvious by the title, but I was ultimately left with a feeling of hope–for Evan and for his family and friends. This won’t be a book for everyone, but it’s one that takes a hard subject and deals with in a way that never seemed superficial or sensationalist.

I discovered Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Faith Erin Hicks and Prudence Shen about halfway through the online publication and had to go back to the beginning to read the whole thing. It’s an utterly charming story and Hicks’ art and Shen’s writing are a wonderful match. A graphic novel with humor, heartbreak, and romance, plus fighting robots–what more could you want? Answer: NOTHING.

Not all books have to be edgy or hard to be good, and
The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding is a perfect example of a good book that takes on some big things but is also accessible and a lot of fun to read. While the plot sounds a bit melodramatic, Spalding takes care with her characters, and it shows.

To be honest, I’m still not 100% sure whether A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron is historical fiction or alternate history. But it doesn’t really matter, because Cameron takes the characters she created in The Dark Unwinding and shades them in a little more. Lots of adventurous fun here.

I could easily see a book similar to Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos being really annoying and overwrought, but Roskos manages to take interesting stylistic choices, a pigeon therapist, and Walt Whitman and turn them into a honest, tender book. I was impressed by the way the story takes on big things like families and mental illness; it’s definitely one that will stay with me for a long time to come.

Uses for Boys, by Erica Lorraine Scheidt, was a surprise for me. I was so sure when I started it that I wasn’t going to love it, and then Anna slowly talked her way into my heart. I think this is a difficult book to put into the handy boxes that we like to use, but it’s all the more valuable for that.

I read The Caged Graves by Dianne Salerni early in my Cybils time, but I still remember it as one of my favorites. First, it’s Gothic-y historical mystery with a great sense of setting and time. Second, I loved the main character, Verity Boone, and her determination to find out the truth of what happened to her mother and her aunt. All in all, it just worked wonderfully for me, and Salerni’s writing was the perfect mix of accessible and historically believable.

I found Relish by Lucy Knisley completely charming. The art was lovely and the chatty folksy-ness of the drawn recipes reminded me a lot of the original Moosewood Cookbook (always a good comparison). It’s also a nice story about one girl’s growing up. Very enjoyable, especially if you’re someone who likes to think and talk about food.

In some ways, I’m not sure why I resonated so strongly with Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. But I really did. I started reading it while eating dinner out and then came home and finished in one big gulp. There are other books that will probably stick with me more, but this was one of the most immersive, purely pleasurable reading experiences I’ve had all year.

bookish posts reviews

2013 in books, part 1: adult fiction

This was a great year for finding new-to-me adult authors! There were a few in particular whose backlists kept me happy for most of the year.

I love Laura Florand’s books a lot. A LOT. I’m consistently wowed by her writing chops and her wonderful characters. I’m so glad I found her this year, and am definitely looking forward to whatever she publishees in 2014.

I started C.J. Cherryh’s ongoing, massive Foreigner series this year, and loved the sense of politics and scope, the complicated society of the atevi, Bren Cameron and his dogged determination to do what’s right even when it seems impossible (see this great post from Ann Leckie). I also read two of her other books, with mixed results (disliked Rusalka, liked Angel with the Sword a lot), and am looking forward to reading my way through the rest her backlist.

I had read one or two books by Martha Wells before this year, but then I read almost all of them either again or for the first time. And I can’t believe that more people don’t know about her books, because they are marvelous! Wonderful settings, wonderful characters, sometimes heartbreaking plots.

I heard about Doris Egan somewhere–one of Jo Walton’s posts on, I think–and was intrigued. So when I discovered an omnibus of her Ivory books in the system, I promptly requested them. And then they became one of my favorite reads all year. Hijinks! Provincial trousers! Complicated but marvelous relationships, romantic and otherwise! Worldbuilding!

I am pretty picky when it comes to historical fiction, so whenever I find a really wonderful author who writes in that genre, I’m basically ecstatic. This year, Gillian Bradshaw was that discovery for me. I started off with The Beacon at Alexandria, which I loved, and then really enjoyed Island of Ghosts. While I didn’t like her Arthurian trilogy as well, she’s still someone I would recommend, especially for fans of Rosemary Sutcliff.

Last year was the year of Tiffany Aching, but early on this year I tried some of Terry Pratchett’s other Discworld books, hoping I would now be able to see the heart under the cleverness, and promptly bounced right off of them AGAIN. Then Rachel Neumeier and Charlotte suggested the Watch books, specifically Night Watch. Which I read and LOVED and cried over and read again and loved it again and cried over it again. The earlier books are not quite as good, but from Feet of Clay on, the Watch books are exactly what I always want Pratchett to be.

I’ve read a few books by Guy Gavriel Kay, including Under Heaven. But I haven’t really loved any of them, until Tori suggested Sailing to Sarantium and its sequel, Lord of Emperors. Historical fantasy in an alternate Byzantine empire, with a title taken from W.B. Yeats? YES PLEASE. Fortunately, I did really like them, the first perhaps a little more than the second. Although the scope is sweeping and broad, Kay also manages to keep a focus on individual characters that keeps the story from becoming simply a history textbook.

I’ve liked Ellen Kushner’s Riverside books, especially Swordspoint, so when I heard that she had written a Thomas the Rhymer/Tam Lin retelling, I knew I had to read it. It was oddly constructed in some ways–with four different narrators and several time jumps. And yet, I really fell for her Thomas and Elspeth, and her version of Elfland. And as a bonus, the ending made me cry a lot.

This year was the first time I’d ever read any Sarah Addison Allen, despite having heard her name floating around for some time. I started with The Girl Who Chased the Moon, but my favorite is undoubtedly Garden Spells. I love the mix of quiet fantasy and lovely relationships that she creates. And her writing is effortlessly lovely, perfect for the kind of story that she tells. She has a new book coming out in 2014, and I’m really excited.

A friend recommended Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax books to me earlier this year, and I decided to give them a try. They’re really fun–completely ridiculous, but the kind of thing that I can read without taking too seriously. I like to describe them as a cozy spy mystery, which sounds weird but is fairly accurate.

I still don’t know how I feel about Cinnamon and Gunpowder, by Eli Brown and especially its conclusion for certain characters. (See my linked review for more about that.) But I do know that I’m still thinking about it, months after reading it.

I reread Tam Lin by Pamela Dean in July and fell in love with it all over again. Janet and her college experiences, which rang so true to me and which lie at the heart of this book. Plus the weird and wonderful friendships she builds, and the Classics department. This is a book that’s a joy to read.