Monday, December 30, 2013

Best Books I read in 2013

Time for the annual round-up of the best books I read in 2013.  Note, this is not a round-up of the best books published in 2013.  About 50% of the best books I read this year were actually published in 2013 and 50% were books I'd been waiting to read.  Oddly, even though there were some great books this year 2013 doesn't feel like a stand-out year for YA books.  While the genre has been consistently good this year, only a few books crossed the line into greatness.  That's one reason Melina Marchetta needs to publish a book soon, her absences, along with some other favorites, was felt this year. (Note: Books are not in any particular order)

Teeth (Goodreads | Amazon)

The beauty of the prose is not that it's complex or prettied up. Instead it's simple, and just reeks of authenticity. Moskowitz writes what needs saying with as words few possible, never adding unnecessary flair and letting the power of the characters and realism of the words, even on this fantastical magical island, speak for themselves. Read full review here.

Code Name Verity (Goodreads | Amazon)

This audiobook impressed me from the start.  The first narrator had the most lovely Scottish accent, which pulled me into a nearly perfect story.  Code Name Verity follows two best friends, Maddie and Julie, who are attempting to do their part for the Allied Forces in WWII when they are trapped behind enemy lines.  This is a story about friendship and we need more of that in YA. (Review coming soon)

The Hallowed Ones (Goodreads | Amazon)

Talk about a book that will blow your mind.  It's about Amish people and vampires, two types of stories I would've never combined.  But this novel is brilliant, with one of the best main characters I've read in awhile.  You'll have to read it to believe it. (Review coming soon)

Chimes At Midnight (Goodreads | Amazon)

The humor in this book might be the best yet. The story has emotional highs and emotional lows. Even when I was scared shitless for October, the book always had a gag, pun or joke to throw at me. And it never felt out of place. The book manages to balance it's sarcastic sense of humor and ability to laugh in the face of certain death,with it's well-plotted, dire circumstances storyline. Read full review here.

The Sea of Tranquility (Goodreads | Amazon)

The writing is so evocative it almost feels like I need to step away and look at it with fresh eyes. But once I start thinking about the story, the feelings hit me again. If this book does anything it makes you feel. The emotions are so vivid that I can't imagine not emotionally connecting with this story, even if it's not your typical type of story. Read full review here.

The Sin Eater's Confession (Goodreads | Amazon)

The Sin-Eater's Confession does not hold back. It's terrible, descriptive and I had to set the book down on many occasions. But it's a book that shouldn't hold back. It's Ben's coping mechanism, his confession of everything he saw and the details he remembers. He's trying to understand what happened, trying to sort it out. Anything else would feel less truthful. Read full review here.

The Spectacular Now (Goodreads | Amazon)

This story is not a lifetime-original movie, where a teenage alcoholic finds redemption. It's a story where Sutter accidentally learns to love and learns to be loved.  This book is full of imperfect people who are just trying to figure out how to live life, have fun and be happy without bulldozing over everybody around them. Read full review here.

These Broken Stars (Goodreads | Amazon)

More often than not, I don't like books described as "timeless love stories" in the blurb. Usually they're too romantically driven, either ignoring the plot or without a plot to start with. These Broken Stars isn't like that. Yes, it's a timeless love story but it's also a good story. Read full review here.

Ashes of Honor (Goodreads | Amazon)

The characters, major and minor, really shine in this novel. I love when characters who have been hanging around for 5 novels like Etienne finally come forward, get fleshed out and suddenly you understand who they've been all along. McGuire is an expert at building a world full of characters who are complete characters, not placeholders caricatures. Read full review here.

Tiger Lily (Goodreads | Amazon)

Rather than focus on Wendy and the Lost Boys, this book focuses on Tiger Lily--found in the forest, an outcast among her own people and a tomboy in a world where she's expected to become a woman. I enjoyed that this book dealt with, subtly, the sliding scale between femininity and masculinity. Tiger Lily is fully a girl, but has boyish tendencies like hunting, that make her feel like an oddity. Read full review here.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Being Sloane Jacobs (review)

4/5 stars

Sloane Emily Jacobs is the daughter of a U.S. Senator with the picture perfect family that isn't quite as perfect as it seems.  A figure skater, Sloane Emily choked at junior nationals and isn't sure that iceskating is really for her, but her parents send her to Montreal for skating camp despite her objections.  Sloane Devon Jacobs is a tough hockey player dealing with her own slew of problems that are manifesting themselves in fighting on the hockey rink.  Like Sloane Emily, she's sent away to a different ice hockey camp in Montreal.

Being Sloane Jacobs (Goodreads | Amazon) is about each girl's struggle to find themselves in the midst of their problems.  The pair meet because of a luggage mix-up at their hotel.  Neither wants to face their life so they decide to switch for the summer.  This book requires a certain suspension of disbelief, that the Sloane Jacobs can switch sports with minimal difficulty and nobody will notice that they're not who they're supposed to be.  If you're willing to make that jump then this is an enjoyable book.  It's a little bit of a leap, being able to skate does not make someone an figure skater or hockey player, but it's one the book requires.

I love sports books, especially when they're not just play-by-plays of the action but realize the impact that sports can have on someone's life.  Part of the reason Sloane Devon sticks with hockey is because that's her ticket out of her life and into a college scholarship.  It also recognizes the camaraderie of team sports, which is something an isolate and lonely Sloane Emily needs in her life.  Even though this book takes place at sports camp, it's not just about sports.  It's about their lives back home, their families and everything they're trying to escape.

For me, this book was a fun sports read.  I don't feel like there are enough books about sports, especially not enough books about girls playing sports out there in the YA realm.  This book had it's flaws, I personally didn't think it was necessary to pair off the two main characters with romantic interest, but the story was still an enjoyable read.  For something cute and fun, this book will do nicely.

I received an advance reading e-book in exchange for an honest review.   

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Follow Friday - Christmas Book Haul

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! What books did Santa stuff your stocking with this holiday season? Do a holiday book haul for us! If you don’t celebrate just show off your books that you got this week. Pictures!!!

Originally I did not get Dark Triumph.  Santa stuffed my stocking with Book Thief, which I had already read.  Originally I planned to keep Book Thief since it's such a good book but my mother said "What's the point of getting a book you've already read?"  So I went to the bookstore and we did an exchange.  I actually think I'm going to be able to carve out some time to read books for fun this month so I'm pretty excited to have this beautiful pile waiting for me.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Roomies (review)

4/5 stars

Roomies (Gooreads | Amazon) is the type of contemporary that I'm just bound to like.  It's about friendship, family and figuring out who you are in relationship to both of those things.  Roomies is the story of Elizabeth, from New Jersey, and Lauren, from San Francisco who are assigned to be roommates their freshman year at Berkley.

The book is told partially in prose and also in epistolary form, with emails back and forth between the two roomies.  As their lives get more complicated with college looming, the pair find it easier to confess their secrets to a nameless person that the people around them.  For me, someone who has had an email friendship, this rang true.  Before text messaging was all the rage, I used to send long emails to one of my best friends from college and this is how we communicated 90% of the time.  Sometimes it is so much easier to write down your fears, your doubts, your life frustrations than to speak them out loud and make them real.
"And I'm starting to think that what people's parents are like is HUGELY important. Because you either turn out like them or you go so far in the opposite direction for whatever reason that you end up being totally unlike them." 
Elizabeth is struggling with her mother's promiscuity and her father's absence.  Whereas Lauren has a seemingly perfect set of parents, just with a lot of siblings and responsibility piled on her and not much money to go around.  They aren't that similar.  But isn't that the wonder of the college roommate system?  If you don't already have someone (I did), then you could end up with anyone and you have to build a relationship from scratch, which is what we see happening in this novel.

Both characters are imperfect people.  But that's what makes them compelling and believable.  When they mess up, you can imagine yourself making the same mistake.  The emails are full of honesty, and the authors let us see not only what the characters say but what they wanted to say, the things they're not sure how to word or if they're allowed to say.  It's the type of real honesty and willingness to let their characters say things they shouldn't that really makes this novel something special. And even though there is romance, this is first and foremost a book about friendship and family, important things that are often neglected in YA books because they're less glamorous and more messy.  I'm glad Roomies accepted the messy aspects of life, opting for emotional honesty and creating a novel that is both wholly readable and achingly realistic.

I received an advanced reading e-book in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Follow Friday - Reluctant Reader Recommendation

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Question: Pick a book in your favorite genre that you’d recommend to a reluctant reader.
Favorite genre?  I mainly read young adult but a lot of people argue that's not a genre. Is YA fantasy specific enough? (Though really I read any good YA).

Well it's going to have to be Hex Hall.  This book is fun, silly, easy and I may have proposed marriage to it once (okay I did and the book accepted. So we've moved beyond the book boyfriend to the I-married-this-book type of relationship)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Until We End (review)

4/5 stars

I'm always pleasantly surprised when I read a dystopian/post-apocalyptic type book that's still good. It's a genre that feels full and it's been so well-done in some series, that it's hard to compete with what has come before.  Until We End (Goodreads | Amazon) is a solidly good book.  I had one major problem with it (and I feel like a broken record because once again my problem was the romantic relationship) but that does not detract from most of the book.

Seventeen-year-old Cora was raised by her father to be a survivor.  He was one of those crazies, stockpiling food, building a self-sustaining greenhouse, keeping a cabinet full of guns, that the neighbors gossiped about.  Until the world really did end, a highly contagious virus sweeping the country, and the neighbors all died.  Six months have passed since Cora's father disappeared, leaving her alone taking care of her eight-year-old brother.

The book begins with a drought forcing Cora to leave the safe confines of her home, venturing to the local spring in an attempt to keep their greenhouse functioning.  At the spring, she is ambushed by an army-deserter named Brooks who carjacks her at gun-point and forces her to take him back to her house to claim her stash of food.  But when Cora returns to her house it's been ransacked and her brother Coby is gone.

Family relationships are typically the best drivers of dystopian/post-apocalyptic books.  That's a connection that's solid and strong, something worth tearing the world apart for.  Like Katniss with Prim, Cora's devotion to her brother is what forces the plot forward in this book.  I believe in her relationship with Coby. I believe that she wants to save him, protect him and give him what childhood she can salvage.

I also like that Cora's survival makes sense.  Cora was literally raised from her childhood to deal with this exact situation.  Even though she doesn't always handle it well (who would?), she has the skill-set to survive.  She's not just lucky. She's trained.   Too often books are dependent upon coincidences to cobble together a plot that makes sense.  But this book actually calls out coincidences and the main characters question them.

As I already said, I didn't believe in the romantic relationship that developed in this book.  I could give you a whole list of reasons (how it started, who the main characters were before the apocalypse, etc) but I'll let you be your own judge of that.  Overall this book is still worth reading, well-plotted, compulsively readable with twists that you won't see coming.

I received an advance reading e-book in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Poor Little Dead Girls (review)

3/5 stars

At times, I really enjoyed Poor Little Dead Girls (Goodreads | Amazon) but at times it dragged.  When Sadie is awarded a scholarship to a fancy boarding school she's worried about the normal things - classes, making friends, being the poor scholarship girl, her roommates, etc.  But when Sadie is kidnapped by a secret society and tricked into joining, the really scary part of Keating Hall is only beginning to unveil itself.

This book had a strong beginning.  It starts off by showing a strong, caring relationship between Sadie and her father, then builds on that start when she arrives at Keating Hall.  The first few chapters are filled with mystery and secrets as Sadie slowly starts to discover pieces of her dead mother's past at the school.

Where this book falters in the mundane "teenage" clothes, drinking and relationship drama it includes.  I'm not saying these choices are always bad in YA books (in fact some books use some of these elements brilliantly, i.e. Spectacular Now).  In this book it just reeks of falseness.  There's this big mystery, a few dead girls and we're getting shopping montages with designer dresses.

After the beginning the book never really found its stride again.  There would be passages where you thought "this is picking up again" only to have something ridiculous happen like a girl get her period at a fancy ball and have no tampons or the main character would say something idiotic.  I also struggled with the main love interest because it never really developed in a meaningful way, they just were kinda thrown together but we were supposed to believe in their relationship because it served the story.

At times this book is fun, with a nice mystery that needs to be solved.  Other times, this book loses the plot.  I suspect some people will enjoy this, as there is a lot that can be enjoyed but overall I didn't connect with the book in the way that I hoped.

I received an advance reading e-book in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Follow Friday - My best sales pitch

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Bookselling Time: Go to your biggest bookcases. Go to the second shelf from the top and pick out the sixth book from the left. Hardsell that book to us – even if you haven’t read it or if you hated it. (if you don’t have bookcases, don’t have six books on one shelf, etc, pick a book at random)
Viva Jacquelina! is the 10th book in the very underrated Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer.  In this edition we find our wily heroine back in the hands of British Intelligence, this time in Portugal.  The hottest of her flirtations, Lord Richard Allen, makes an appearance and that alone should be enough to get you to read the book.  There is music, flirting, history, posing for Goya and adventures galore.

Honestly this is an easy book to promote because if you haven't read this series, you're missing out.  From the integration of real history, to one of the most interesting, flirtation and fun heroines in YA, this series is excellent.  If you're able to find the audiobooks, they are award-winning spectacular pieces filled with laughter, music and narrated by the incomparable Katherine Kellgren.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Rebel McKenzie (review)

4/5 stars

Rebel McKenzie (Goodreads | Amazon) feels like a book for kids and as a middle-grade book, that's probably a good thing.  One of my friends (Cough Megan at Book Brats Cough) keeps talking how a lot of middle grade books feel like they're being written for adults who are sentimental about the innocence of youth rather than for actual children who are in the midsts of it.

There is no real sentimentality in Rebel McKenzie.  It's a book very much in the present, with a main character who is flawed and funny.  Whereas adults might clutch their pearls at Rebel's tactics and her tendency to be mean-spirited, I think kids will relate to the smart girl who wants to be taken seriously, humiliate the neighborhood bully and be a good aunt to her little nephew all at the same time.

The story starts with Rebel attempting to run away to join a kid's paleontologist dig.  When that attempt fails, her much-older sister shows up and asks Rebel to come stay with them for the summer to babysit her nephew Rudy.  This is where the adult in me started to say "Wait that doesn't seem believable" but then I remember that was pretty much how all my games as a kid went. (Seriously when I played Barbies the parents went away for the summer leaving a house full of teens and kids, shenanigans ensued and they had to flee to the cave in the woods aka my bunk-bed).  That's not something that's going to faze a kid, reading-wise, they'll just be glad to have parents out of the picture.

Rebel is not a perfect main character, but she's a realistic one.  In order to raise money for the paleontologist dig, Rebel decides to win the Frog Level Volunteer Fire Department's beauty pageant.  And Rebel uses any means necessary, even tricking her new-found friend.  With a unique talent (burping...), and a non-beauty queen personally, can Rebel beat the neighborhood bully/beauty queen, her new homely friend, and become the serious paleontologist she dreams of?

As you can imagine, Rebel's antics do not go unchecked and there's a nice little moral to the story by the end.  After all this is middle-grade and we don't want our little girls taking out their best friends in beauty pageants, but it's a fun ride of a book.

I loved the newsletters, cartoons by Rudy and other children-friendly insertions of this book. Middle Grade can be so fun! 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

These Broken Stars (review)

4/5 stars

More often than not, I don't like books described as "timeless love stories" in the blurb.  Usually they're too romantically driven, either ignoring the plot or without a plot to start with.  These Broken Stars (Goodreads | Amazon) isn't like that.  Yes, it's a timeless love story but it's also a good story.

The book starts with a chance meeting between Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen, a rich heiress and a poor war-hero soldier, on a luxury spaceship traveling through hyperspace.  The chemistry in the first scene between these two is off the charts, but once Lilac regains her senses she pretty much shuts down any potential relationship.  It's not because she thinks she's better than Tarver, but because her father is a  very rich and controlling man who would not approve.  But when the spaceship crashes, leaving Lilac and Tarver as the only survivors the pair are thrust together to fight for survival.

What I like most about this book is the characters.  The authors don't simplify them to stereotypes.  For example, Lilac is a beautiful, rich heiress, but she's not a snobby airhead.  She's smart, strategic and stubborn.  It's her knowledge of the escape pods, after all her father's company built them, that saves them in the first place.  But it also shows that she's out of her element, wearing a party dress and heels, once they crash land on the planet.  She's stubborn and determined to keep up with Tarver, even if it's not within her abilities.  There is a realistic balance between strengths and weakness that make her an interesting character.
"But I'm tired of being weak. I'm tired of being led. I'm tired of having this soldier decide my every step. I'm Lilac LaRaux."
Tarver is well-developed as well.  Yes he's a soldier, but he's more than a uniform barking commands.  He's a person, who aspiration beyond the army, a family back home and a heart-wrenching backstory.  Throw two well-fleshed out, equally-developed characters onto a planet and odds are you're going to have a good story to tell.

The story itself kept me guessing.  They're stranded on a strange terraformed planet where nothing makes sense.  There's a mystery, a secret there and in order to get rescued they're going to have to discover why this planet was forgotten in the first place.  It's original, unique and wholly readable.

I received an advanced reading e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Follow Friday - New in 2013

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Tell us at least one new or unusual thing you’ve done in 2013.
Oh goodness, 2013 has been FULL of new things.  December 15, 2012 I moved to a new city so pretty much everything has been new.  I'm not sure how unique or unusual my experiences have been but I'll share some of them.  Probably the most interesting thing is that I joined the climbing gym.  I've been climbing before, but not consistently.  Now I'm in a meetup group (if you move to a new city that website is gold) and climb usually twice a week.  Other new experiences: living on my own, going to exciting places in Louisville, live-tweeting a tractor pull, hosting a Doctor Who party for my new city friends, having plans on weekends, etc.