Tuesday, 31 December 2013

My Top Ten Books of 2013

I meant to write this post a couple of weeks ago and even wrangled the 88 books I'd read at that point into a list of just ten to share with you all, but then I got busy. And now I'm faced with a struggle, because a book I've read since then feels like it deserves a place on the list but I don't know and now I'm struggling again and I think I'm getting a nosebleed. So I'm sticking to the original version of the list and hoping that the resulting stress will result in me getting my act together a little faster next year.

There is one thing I have to say before we continue, though. I reread the Harry Potter series this year, for the first time in a couple of years, for probably the twelfth time overall. I've decided to eliminate them from the running, because, frankly, they'd probably occupy the top six slots on this list (Chamber of Secrets wouldn't get a look in) and that would be boring.

So, in reverse order, we have...

10 - Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian
I really, really enjoyed this book. In fact, it kind of set the tone for my reading year. I've always not-quite-avoided-but-I-don't-have-a-better-word-for-it YA contemporary novels. I consider myself to be much more of a fantasy fan, and I've never really been able to relate to the high school experience, given that I grew up in the UK and so never had that experience myself. Still, it kind of fascinates me. This book is about three teenage girls teaming up to get revenge on the classmates that have harmed them. It was funny, engaging and more importantly, the voices of the three girls were all distinct from one another. Hugely important. And actually, two of the main characters are not white, which is interesting considering how much I've read about the white-washing of young adult books in the last year. This book was a great read, and the only reason it's not higher up on the list is because it suddenly became a paranormal book towards the end, completely out of the blue, and that threw me. I think if I'd known that, I'd have had a much better experience overall. The second book was very enjoyable, too, and I have my fingers crossed that the final instalment of the trilogy finds its way into my hands in 2014.

9 - Ten by Gretchen McNeil
I was not actually expecting to like this book, which is possibly what elevated it to a spot on the list. Don't get me wrong, it's a really good book, but I'm always wary of thrillers. Ten teens alone and unsupervised on an island for three days and one of them is a killer - while this sounds great, I immediately start guessing who the killer is. Seriously, I read the back cover and was convinced I knew who it was. It's a problem. I simply have to guess, but I get mad if I guess right and I get mad if I turn out to be wrong. Thrillers just can't win with me, but this book managed to. I won't spoil it by telling you who the killer is and how easy or not it is to figure out, but I will say it's a hell of a ride. I mentioned in my review how much it reminded me of the TV show Harper's Island, one of the few other whodunnits I've enjoyed in the last few years. While I didn't connect very well with any of the characters, I did find the story gripping and I found myself staying up very late to try and uncover the culprit, then racing through the last chapters the next day at work because I really did have to go to sleep before I could finish. I'll definitely be checking out more of McNeil's books this year.

8 - Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Ohh, I loved this book. Again, it was a bit of a surprise to me. I'd heard lots of good things about it online and decided to take a chance on it, despite the fact that I've never read Peter Pan. The extent of my knowledge of Neverland comes from the Disney animated version and the scarring live-action Hook. Seriously, to this day I can't think about that film without feeling all strange. But that's not the point. The point is that Tiger Lily is a stunning book, with writing so beautiful that I found myself doing something I rarely do - rereading passages over and over again before I moved on, and flicking back to them from time to time to read them again. I was completely absorbed in this book, in this world populated by characters with familiar names but who I didn't know at all. My only slight issue with it was the lack of time spent with the pirates. Captain Hook fascinated me here and I wanted to see so much more of him and his crew, but sadly they were sidelined in favour of the Lost Boys, who just weren't quite as interesting. But then, I've always had a bit of an obsession with pirates. I had my pirate phase right before my vampire phase, and I don't think I'll ever fall entirely out of love with either one of them. I'm still not going to watch Hook, though.

7 - The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson
Hey, guys, I actually met Maureen Johnson this year, and she's just as mad and funny as you would expect from following her on Twitter. (Which you can do here, if you don't already) This book is actually the sequel to her modern-day Jack the Ripper thriller The Name of the Star, which I also read this year, but I preferred this book, even though I think the first instalment actually had a slightly stronger story. Let's just say that the two of them share this spot on the list. I love the character of Rory, and I think Johnson did an excellent job of portraying England, something a lot of American writers have failed at in my personal experience. I also read a couple of other books by her this year and enjoyed them as well, though this remains my favourite of them, and not just because it's the only one without a nauseating cover. Speaking of which, you should also look up her Cover Flip experiment, which featured covers designed for gender-swapped authors - think Nellie Gaiman instead of Neil Gaiman, Jane Franzen instead of Jonathan Franzen. This is another subject I read a lot about this year, along with the lack of diversity in YA books, and I found it fascinating. Still, regardless of the cover, I have to say that the ending of the second book was abominable. Truly, truly evil. So maybe hold off on reading these until the third book is released, because I promise you'll want to immediately get your grubby little hands on it.

6 - Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
This book has the rather dubious honour of being one of the four movie tie-in edition books I own. I do so hate movie tie-in editions, but I came to this book after loving the film and so I didn't actually have that many options. It was basically impossible to lay my hands on the original cover, without going to excessive effort. And I hate effort. As I said, I saw the film before I read the book, and I think I did enjoy the film just a tiny bit more. Maybe because it was fresh and new to me, maybe because it featured the supreme Jennifer Lawrence, who knows? The book is excellent, though. Honestly, if I'd read it first, I'm sure I would prefer it to the film. I know nothing about American football or dancing, I know next to nothing about mental illnesses and grief, and I never considered myself to be particularly interested in any of those subjects. And yet, I loved this book. I even cried over it. There really isn't much else I can say about it beyond that. It was funny and moving and just so damn interesting. I can't wait to read more of Quick's books. Actually, that's not true, I am in fact waiting to read them, because I've got my eye on Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock but it's not available in paperback yet. But you can bet I'll pre-order it just as soon as it is.

5 - Speechless by Hannah Harrington
Ugh. That cover. I hate it. I hate it so, so much. The book contained inside it, however, was brilliant. But that cover really is truly hideous. I genuinely considered not buying it because of that ugly cover, but I'm trying to be a better person about that. It's not going so well. I'm still very judgmental about covers. I'm really glad I gave this one a shot, though. It's another YA contemporary, another foray into the unknown, and I loved it. After spilling a secret that almost gets someone killed, gossip-loving Chelsea decides to keep her mouth shut. Literally. She takes a vow of silence, which makes for an interesting read, particularly as there are few books that I know of where the main character doesn't speak for two hundred plus pages. Of course, she finds ways to communicate with people and learns all sorts of lessons about herself. It all got a bit sappy towards the end, a bit too sappy for me, but I did enjoy it overall. Enough that it earned one of the highest honours I can bestow on a book - a spot on my bookshelf. (Seriously, I need to start getting rid of some books before I can no longer actually get out of the door!)

4 - Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers
Last year I read Summers' latest book This Is Not a Test, a book about a girl struggling with the zombie apocalypse that we all know is coming in the not-too-distant future. I liked it well enough and so this year, on a whim, I read her debut, Cracked Up the Be. And I loved it. I know I keep saying that and obviously I love all of these books, otherwise they wouldn't have made it onto this list, but I don't care. I rarely love things enough to express that feeling. Parker is a fascinating character, although she's one that divides opinion hugely. She is not a likeable person, which is actually why I like her as a character. I've never been particularly interested in heroes, I like villains. I like flawed, troubled characters, and Parker is the queen of flawed, troubled characters. She's sharp and snarky and pushes everyone away. She's not a character I'll forget in a hurry, even though I had issues with the ending of the book. This is easily my favourite of Summers' books (I bought the other two before I'd finished this one and then waited impatiently for them to arrive once I had) and she's made it onto my list of authors whose books I will buy automatically. Not even J.K Rowling is on that list.

3 - Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan
Speaking of snarky characters who push everyone away, Immortal Beloved and its heroine Nastasya who swoop in at the number three spot on the list. Actually, like with the Maureen Johnson books, this spot is shared by this book and its sequel, Darkness Falls, though not the final book in the trilogy, Eternally Yours, which I found bitterly disappointing. This is a slow, plot-light story that would normally have bored me to tears. A quick pace and strong plot are generally deal-breakers for me. However, Nastasya was engaging enough that I made it all the way through the book and actually loved it. There are flashbacks - a fair few of them - and I still loved it. That's high praise from me, indeed. I will say that this book wasn't what I expected - I read the word "immortals" and heard "vampires" - but I think that was part of its charm. It's nice to be surprised sometimes - as long as that surprise isn't changing genres halfway through for no apparent reason (I'm looking at you, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer). I do wonder if the reason I didn't enjoy the third book as much is because I had such high expectations, having loved the first two so much, but in the same breath I just have to say how much I'd like my own Reyn. I don't know about anyone else, but in my head he looks like Chris Hemsworth.

2 - Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
Just missing out on the top spot is Leigh Bardugo's stunning Siege and Storm, a book that I absolutely devoured. I don't have a whole lot to say about this one, for reasons that will become apparent shortly, but there is a reason it missed out on the top spot. An important reason that some people have rolled their eyes out when I've shared it because they just don't get it. There isn't enough of the Darkling here. There just isn't. There's also less kissing.

Disappointing.






1 - Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Yep, it had to be, didn't it? This year I discovered Leigh Bardugo, the Grisha, Alina Starkov, Ravka and, of course, the Darkling. Have you guessed who my favourite character is yet? This book is nothing short of phenomenal, the first high fantasy I've loved since Harry Potter. Any book you can mention positively in the same sentence as Harry Potter is something special indeed. (For the record, I didn't say it was better than Harry Potter, as a couple of friends have claimed, just that I hadn't loved a book this much since Harry Potter). The thing is, though, I don't really want to say anything about it. I knew very little about it and found myself completely immersed in the world that Bardugo has created, and I wonder if that added to the experience. I often think that the less you know about a book, the more you'll enjoy it, so I don't want to give anything away. The only thing I will say is that I loved the Russian influences here - I've been obsessed with the country since watching Anastasia as a child. It felt like this book had been written especially for me, but I've still forced it on as many people as I've been able to. And do you know what? Every single one of them so far has loved it. So it's not just me.



2 comments:

  1. I'm glad to see you enjoyed Ten! That seems to have been met by mostly negative reviews from friends of mine, but I really enjoyed it. And yes, Shadow & Bone and Siege & Storm are fantastic. As is Speechless. *sigh* Love that book.

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    1. I think I finally decided to buy Speechless based on your review of it, so thanks for that!

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