Saturday, December 31, 2011

Books I read in 2011

Well, it's the last day of the year, which means that it's time for the "Books I Read" list. This year I read (give or take, not counting rereads or parenting books or pregnancy books or books I assigned my students) 70 books. That's a lot. My eyes are tired.

This was the year of the dystopian, which was great, because I LOVE dystopians. I have always loved stories about what happens after the world ends. So I really enjoyed myself this year. I am pretty easy to please, books-wise, most of the time. There were only 2 or 3 books this year that I really disliked. And my mama taught me not to badmouth other people, so I won't tell you what they are.

This was also a year that I started but didn't finish a lot of books, which is weird for me. I guess, what with the new baby and the book tour and the loads of writing I had to do myself this year, I had a shorter attention span. If it didn't catch me, I didn't keep reading it. I also bought probably 25 books I simply didn't get to this year. My list next year is going to be enormous, I have a feeling. . .

So, without further, ado, the 2011 list:

1.      Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. This was easily my favorite book of the year, which is funny because it was the first book I read. It took me a while to get into, as the opening chapters are long and detailed and you don't know why you need to know all this stuff, but trust me, TRUST ME, you need to know all this stuff, and once you get to the premise of the book you'll never look back. I loved everything about this novel. It was just superbly written, beautiful language, an interesting, emotional, creative story. Sigh. I wish I could read it for the first time all over again.

2.      XVI by Julia Karr. I've had the pleasure of getting to know Julia a little bit in the Elevensies (which is a group of debut authors whose books came out in 2011), and she is awesome. Her book was in the first wave of the dystopians this year, but one of the better ones, I thought.

3.      Across the Universe by Beth Revis. I felt oddly competitive with this book. Or maybe not-so-oddly, since it came out the week before Unearthly and hit the New York Times list, and every time I went into a bookstore that week there seemed to be a bigger pile of this book than mine. I really wished I could say that it was a terrible book. But it's terrific, seriously. One of the best first chapters ever written, I think. I get cold just thinking about it. And it's not like any other book I've read, which is another reason it's great. Plus everyone says that Beth Revis is just a lovely lovely lovely person. So I can't be too jealous. Or I shouldn't be. It deserves every bit of the praise it gets.

4.      Ascendent by Diana Peterfreund. This was the sequel to Rampant, which made my top 5 list last year, and it was also spectacularly good. I'm going to make a list of my top sequels soon, and this novel is on it. It was even better than the first one, I thought. Gotta love the modern-day virgin unicorn-killing warrior.

5.      Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. One of my student recommended that I read this series, since I said I liked dystopians, and I really liked it. I flew through the whole series in less than a week. My students are awesome.

6.      Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

7.      Specials by Scott Westerfeld

8.      Delirium by Lauren Oliver. Now, we've already established that I heart Lauren Oliver. A lot. And I hearted this book, too, but I loved Before I Fall so much that I couldn't help but compare, and I didn't love this book as much as that one. Which is not to say that it's not a great book. It's got the beautiful writing, too, and is probably one of the best dystopians that came out this year. (goes and writes fan mail to Lauren Oliver. . .)

9.      Glimmerglass by Jenna Black. This was one of those books I bought because I thought the title was beautiful. It turned out to be a good book, which is a plus. It was refreshing to read a fairy book again. Snif. I missed Melissa Marr this year.

10.  Wither by Lauren DeStefano. I thought this book was gutsy as all get-out. It's such a gritty dystopian world, and DeStefano doesn't soften the punches. Oh yes, there were sister wives. And a teenager having a baby. And murder. And a strange disease that kills everybody before they turn 25. It was a crazy, crazy, ride, but DeStefano pulled it off by making us feel for the characters. I was still thinking about this book days later, and wondering how the series is going to end.

11.  The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan. I am a HUGE Carrie Ryan fan. I still don't think you can get a book much better than The Forest of Hands and Teeth. So of course I gobbled this book right up, and it was super-satisfying. I love that each book of this series is from a new, unexpected character's point of view. It makes each story so fresh, at the same time keeping us in the familiar, scary zombies-are-going-to-eat-us-all! world.

12.  Clarity by Kim Harrington. I really liked this book, a nice thriller-type novel where the main character has a good dose of sass, which I find charming. It also had a great sense of setting. 

13.  My Blood Approves by Amanda Hocking. Okay, here we go. I know I said that my mama told me not to bad mouth other people, but. . . (bites lip). . .ACK! This book was truly awful. How in the name of all that's holy did this poorly-written Twilight rip-off ever become popular? After finishing the book (and oh yes, I did finish it; I had to keep reading because I couldn't believe it wasn't going to get any better. . .) I had to ask myself, is it me, or is this a truly horrendous book? Do I have a problem with self-publishing? Am I jealous? Am I stuck up? To which I came to the following conclusion: No. No. And no. The book sucks.

14.  Entwined by Heather Dixon. This book does NOT suck. It is a lovely, lovely book, from its gorgeous cover (I vote for this book as maybe the prettiest cover of 2011, outside of Unearthly, of course :P) to its premise: a smart retelling of the twelve dancing princesses fairy tale. Such a challenge to write about 12 sisters and keep them all straight and make us care about all of them, but Dixon pulled it off. I loved this book, and I am grateful to Heather Dixon, because I really needed something fantastic after the Hocking.

15.  Cold Kiss by Amy Garvey. This is a nice, super-creepy story about a girl who uses witchcraft to bring her dead boyfriend back to life. (Shudders. But in a good way, as it was a very good book.)

16.  Divergent by Veronica Roth. Okay, so this is the go-to, you'll-like-it-if-you-liked-Hunger-Games book this year, and it deserves that reputation. This is an excellent, edge-of-your-seat read. I'm a fan.

17.  The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell. This was a refreshing read, a Victorian paranormal that was creepy in all the right places and romantic in all the right places and fun with pretty dresses. Plus it has the gorgeous cover. I love how she's looking over her shoulder as she runs; it captures the emotion of the book so well. I was in such dread for this main character and worried about what would happen to her. There was a moment near the end where I was seriously nail-biting over this one.

18.  The Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin. I got into this because I started watching Game of Thrones on HBO. I was thrilled at how faithful the TV series has been so far to the books. The first book is awesome. I ate it up, and promptly bought the second, and ate that up, but at some point I started ignoring all the characters I wasn't particularly interested in (which is easy with these books since each chapter is from a different character's POV) and skimmed ahead for the Daenerys and Sansa and Arya and Cersei chapters. Yep. I am all about the female characters. The rest are all dumb guys with swords.

19.  The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter. Liked it. Totally wanted her to end up with Hades.

20.  The False Princess by Eilis O’ Neall. Liked it, too. It was refreshing to read a straight-up fantasy with a solid main character.

21.  Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini. Love the cover of this one; it just screams Helen of Troy, with the storm lurking in the background.

22.  Die For Me by Amy Plum. I really liked this one. Who would have thought that zombies (okay, sort of zombies) could be sexy. I also dug the Paris setting.

23.  Hereafter by Tara Hudson. I also really liked this book. It was a ghost story done right, and I was cheering for the characters all the way, and sad about their dilemma.

24.  Slide by Jill Hathaway. This is the very first book that I decided to blurb. Which of course means I loved it, if I am willing to attach my name to it. I think it's a perfect example of a writer getting all of the elements right: a great narrative voice, a simple but well-executed premise, tons of thrills (this book is a THRILLER-- there are definitely a few of those what I like to call Rear Window moments. You know, in Rear Window with Jimmy Stewart, when he's spying on his neighbor who he thinks is a murderer and Grace Kelly breaks into the scary neighbor's apartment to look for evidence, and then the murderer COMES HOME? And Jimmy Stewart can only watch it all helplessly? Well, Slide is like that. Gave me chills a couple of times.), and the story speaks to the voyeur in all of us, except in this case, the MC can't help but watch. . .

25.  Red Riding Hood by a whole mess of people I'm too lazy to write down. I'm also too lazy to tell you what a hot mess of a novel this was. Watch the movie, which is also a hot mess, but at least there are pretty boys in it.

26.  The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Oh my heck. You guys. This book. So I was doing a signing in Pocatello, Idaho, this past summer, and the manager at the Waldenbooks and I got to talking, and he told me his favorite book this year was this Patrick Ness book. People either love it or they hate it, he said. The language is all funny. And the characters can all hear what each other is thinking, and Ness gives it to us the way people really think, not coherent sentences but colors and images and a jumble of words and emotions. And the main character can't read or write since they don't have school because they can't have school because they are all thinking too loud to concentrate. So, like he said, the language is all funny. But it's beautiful, like reading prose poetry. The story is amazing. And there's a dog. The MC has a conversation with his dog (where he can hear the dog's thought, you dig?) on the very first page in fact. This book. Rocked. My. World. I promptly bought and read all the others, plus a short story he wrote about this same world. *hugs the Waldenbooks guy. . .

27.  The Ask and The Answer by Patrick Ness

28.  The New World by Patrick Ness

29.  Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

30.  Hourglass by Myra McIntyre. There was a lot of hoopla around this book, and I get why. Time travelling is hot. And there's a hot guy (seriously, so hot, wow) and the light bulbs flare and break whenever he and the MC kiss. Wish I'd thought of THAT idea. Isn't the cover awesome? I love the pose and the dress and the way her hair trickles sideways to the floor.

31.  Incarceron by Catherine Fisher. I'd been wanting to read this book for a while, since I keep hearing people talk about it, and so I finally did. And it was cool. That's the word I'd pick to describe it. Cool. The world-building is fantastic and I really worried and yearned with the characters.

32.  Sapphique by Catherine Fisher. So of course I had to read the sequel. Also cool.

33.  From Bad to Cursed by Katie Alender. I know Katie, so maybe I'm biased a little, but I thought this sequel in her Bad Girls Don't Die series was even better than the first, and I really, really liked the first. There's something I find so charming about the voice of this MC, and the way she handles all the crazy crap that's thrown at her. Last time a doll tried to kill her. This time she has to deal with a crazy-popular-girl CULT. Fun times ensue. I am also super jealous of Katie's book trailer, which her film-maker husband made for her:

34.  Hare Moon (short story) by Carrie Ryan

35.  Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. This was a quiet hit with me, a story about a teenager who has to try to survive the chaos that goes down on Earth after a giant asteroid strikes the moon. 

36.  Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien. Maybe it's because I had a baby this year, but the first chapter of this book KILLED me. The MC is a midwife, and the story had me in its clutches from the first page or so, and didn't let me go until the end, where I subsequently spent the next few hours wide awake in bed worrying about what would happen to her. And the sequel didn't come out for months. And I ended up liking the sequel even more than the first one.

37.  Water Wars by Cameron Stracher. Another dystopian. By this point I was beginning to get faintly weary with dystopians, and they were all starting to run together a little bit, but I remember that I liked this book. As someone who grew up in a mountain desert climate where water rights can be something people shoot at each other over, I got it.

38.  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. I saw the trailer for this book, and I thought it looked ah-mazing (this may be the best book trailer EVER), and I went to the bookstore and bought a hard copy, because I wanted to enjoy all the beautiful and eerie pictures. Don't buy the ebook version of this one, you guys.

39.  Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers. A love triangle. One guy who's literally an angel. The other, not so much. How could I not like this? It was such a fun and playful read for me, especially since it is on a topic so close to my own. 

40.  Wolfsbane by Andrea Cremer. I need to reread this book. I read it without rereading the first of the series, Nightshade, which I really loved last year, and somehow couldn't connect with it this time. But I love Ms. Cremer and the subtle way she works her smarts and her philosophical questions into her books, so I really intend to try this one again.

41.  Supernaturally by Kiersten White. Another sequel that I thought was equal or maybe even better than the first. Okay, no. Not true. I still LOVE the first one for the way it made me feel, experiencing Evie's world for the first time, but this one is bleeping good, too. I also had the pleasure of having breakfast with Kiersten last time I was in San Diego, and she was so smart and funny and I instantly wanted her to be my new writerly bestie. (puppy-dog eyes at Kiersten. I will still totally buy the waffles. You rock.)

42.  Illusions by Aprilynne Pike. This book mostly just made me insanely curious for how it's all going to play out in the next, final book. I am team Tamani, btw. Mostly. When he's not being a pompous a**. I get to be on a panel with Aprilynne at the Romantic Times book convention this April, and I am soooo looking forward to hanging with her again. She was sweet enough to let me shadow her for a bit when she was touring in Idaho a few summers ago, and was so all-around nice and helpful to me a published-author-newbie.

43.  2010 Best American Short Stories. Okay, so I read this for my advanced fiction class, as I do every year, but I count it as recreational reading too. Some awesome stories in here, as there are every year. And a few I just didn't get. As usual.

44.  Haven by Kristi Cook. Liked it.

45.  Vanish by Sophie Jordan. This is another sequel that I definitely loved more than the first book. I liked the first book, mind you, but this one had me breathless in several places. And I felt so bad for Jacinda and all that she had to risk to get what she wanted, and all that she had to lose. But I am Team Cassian. Dragon-boy is hot. :P

46.  Blood Red Road by Moira Young. I LOVED this book. It was at the very top of my list for a long, long time, the book I recommended when people asked me what my favorite dystopian was. I loved the language, the cadence of the prose, the rustic beauty of it. I loved that she had a pet crow. I loved that she ended up with a shaved head. I loved the sense of epicness (is that a word?) about her entire adventure. I heard that Ridley Scott is going to make this book into a film, and that made perfect sense. I can't wait to see it on the screen, but in the meantime I will be waiting patiently for the next book in the series.

47.  The Near Witch by Victoria Scwab. I really liked this one too, more of a straight-up fantasy feel to it, which I liked. This is what Red Riding Hood wishes it was.

48.  Fateful by Claudia Gray. Werewolves on the Titanic. I thought this was going to be cheesy beyond belief, but it actually was pretty good.

49.  Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. I don't read a lot of contemporary YA, but someone suggested this book to me, and I loved it. Great use of setting, great characters who seemed real and fallible but lovable. Great all around. Reading this book was like taking a big gulp of fresh air after writing a very heavy book myself, and reading a lot of dire and dark dystopians. It also made me want to put a streak in my hair and see an old movie in a Parisian movie house.

50.  The Declaration by Gemma Malley. Speaking of dire and dark dystopians. This was a good read, and translated the vibe of a home for illegally made children in such a vivid way. And oh yes, it was very dark. It reminded me a bit of Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, which I read and really loved last year.

51.  Anna Dressed in Blood by Blake Kendare. Hands down the best ghost story of the year (sorry Tara Hudson, Hereafter was a close second, I swear). Anna scared me to death, and I also felt soooo bad for her and for Cas for having to deal with her. Snif. I totally want to see a mash-up of this and Anna and The French Kiss, hee hee. Anyhow. It was creeptastic. An amazing cover, too, I thought, which really captures the essence of the book without being too gory. Anna is both terrifying and beautiful in this picture. I love when a publisher truly gets the cover right for the story and not just what they think is going to get the reader to pick it up off the shelf.

52.  The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. Liked it. Also liked the cover, which again seemed to capture the essence of the book beautifully.

53.  The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. I haven't gotten this swept up in a fantasy since Graceling. This book is epic, and masterfully paced. And I so admire Rae Carson for giving us a heroine who's overweight and doesn't think of herself as worth much at the beginning of the book, and then slowly but surely, powerfully and unexpectedly, transforming her.

54.  Eve by Anna Carey. The first page of the book made me cry, which I considered a good sign. I just. . . enjoyed this book, through and through. Got to the end and read the acknowledgments and was surprised to find that Anna Carey and I have the same editor over at HarperTeen. Yay, Farrin, for editing such a great book! I will definitely read the next one of the series.

55.  The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. I've been a huge fan of Ms. Stiefvater ever since Shiver, but she really outdid herself this time. This book was lovely in every way. I could not put it down. My husband would find me hiding from my kids in the closet with my kindle just so I could read a few more pages. I loved the mythology of this book, sprung to life. There was a scene with Puck and her horse and her brother in the barn that literally had my hand standing on end. I was laughing and nearly crying by the end. So. freaking. good.

56.  Crossed by Ally Condie. Matched made my top five last year, but I didn't like the sequel nearly as well, although I can't say why, exactly. I can be meh about sequels sometimes.

57.  A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. This book lodged a terrible ache in my throat for days. Masterfully done. Only read if you're stocked up on tissues.

58.  Prized by Caragh M. O’Brien. Scroll up to #36 to see my thoughts on Birthmarked, which I liked. I loved Prized even more. There was something so life-or-death about it, and it felt like an entirely new and different, even-richer world than the first book, in a good way. I also enjoyed the love square, and was never quite decided on which boy Gaia should end up with.

59.  Shine by Lauren Myracle. I learned about this book because of the book award drama (I told you before I don't read a whole lot of contemporary YA) and I was so glad I did. It's an amazingly brave and well-told little book. I liked it so much I want to use it in my YA lit class in the fall. I have a feeling we'll have a lot to talk about. The setting here was so incredibly well-rendered, and the voice reminded me of Harper Lee, if Harper Lee was writing about hate crimes and sexual abuse.

60.  The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. I liked this book, and I am addicted to facebook, so it felt particularly relevant and interesting, plus I was a teenager at the same time as these characters, so it really took me back. But as a book it didn't hold a candle to Thirteen Reasons Why. It was so much. . .fluffier. Not that I don't like fluffy at times. But from Asher I can't help but be slightly disappointed. Then I tell myself to give the guy a break and let him write a book that doesn't take him to an utterly dark place every day, okay?

61.  Legend by Marie Lu. A bookstore manager and I were talking about dystopians a while back, and I mentioned some of the ones I loved, and she was kind of meh about them. There are so many dystopians, she said, that to stand out you really have to offer something fresh. And then she recommended this book. Which I found funny, because while I liked the book and enjoyed the story, it didn't strike me as particularly fresh. It struck me as trying to be the next Hunger Games, all the way down to the symbol on the cover. But maybe my meh about this book has way more to do with being just a tad burned out by dystopians at this point.

62.  Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi. Or maybe I'm not so burned out by dystopians, because I loved this one. I'm a language girl, first and foremost, and the language of this book was gorgeous. I loved the strike-outs. I did feel like we suddenly were in an episode of X-Men right at the end, but as a die-hard X-Men fan, I kind of dug that. I also think that this cover is all wrong for this book, a clear example of the publisher (my publisher--eep! sorry!) trying to hook the reader with a pretty dress rather than trying to capture the essence of the book. It's a beautiful cover, don't get me wrong. But doesn't truly speak for the book, except for the strike-out at the top. 

63.   Tiger’s Curse by Colleen Houck. Bought this in hardcover because it wasn't available as an ebook. Very cool, interesting mythology.

64. Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi. Speaking of covers, I loved this one. Totally got it right, in my opinion. I also really enjoyed this book, and I immediately asked myself whether I thought this book brought something fresh to the dystopian landscape, and the answer was YES. I also liked the way Perry could smell how Aria was feeling, and I loved the singing element. This is a writer who doesn't lean too much on the visual, which I admire. And it was a tense and high-stakes story, too.

65.  The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain. Okay, so this is not YA. But I couldn't help reading this. As some of you might know, I have a PhD in Creative Writing (no Dr. Hand jokes, please), and to get said PhD I had to specialize in an area of literature and write many many MANY pages of papers on this specialty, so that I could be, well, you know, a specialist. I chose Hemingway (and his contemporaries, but mostly Hemingway), which means I have read every one of Hemingway's novels and most of his short stories and poems and memoirs. And I have read many many MANY biographies. The point is, this book is a novel from the point of view of Hemingway's first wife, Hadley. When I first started reading it I was aching that I had not written this book. But Ms. Mclain did a beautiful job, both in capturing Hadley (I've always thought that was such a cool name: Hadley Hemingway) and in capturing good old Ernest.

66.  Everneath by Brodi Ashton. One of the awesome things about my job is that I often get books far in advance of their release date. Like these next three, which my publicist sent me because I'm going to be touring with Brodi, Jodi, and Courtney in February for the Dark Days. Wow, does this one ever have a mouth-watering cover, (right?) and I thought the story within was very unique as a paranormal romance. She offered something fresh on the idea. I also liked that there was a countdown at the beginning of every chapter until all kinds of literal hell breaks loose.

67.  Incarnate by Jodi Meadows. This was an awesome book, too, and not just because I'm going to be having lots of car rides and plane trips and giggling with these people, but seriously. Nice world-building. I hated her mother. I wanted her to get eaten by a dragon. I loved the danger that was always lurking in this book, and the idea of these people who had lived thousands of years in different bodies.

68.  Wings of the Wicked by Courtney Allison Moulton. Ah, Courtney. You're doing it to me again, my friend. You kick major patootie. I've been reading this book in my spare minutes for the past three days, and it is a super cool story, always like reading a Buffy episode (in a good way, I promise). I just got to the part where that thing happens that is similar to what happens in my book (not the angels v. cars part, the other part) and omg. *Okay, so this isn't so much a review of the book as a message to Ms. Moulton but I can embrace that: Can't wait to meet you in real life, CAM! Squees and jumps up and down!
69.  Bumped by Megan McCafferty. Cool premise. Maybe the God stuff in this book (one of the MCs is super religious, and I think we're meant to mock that a little, which kind of spun me the wrong way) made me uncomfortable, or maybe the world was just too high-tech for me. I like the low-tech dystopians, typically, the rough and tumble over the what I like to call 5th Element kind of futuristic world. Either way, not my cup of tea, really, although, like I said, cool premise. 

70.  Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. #70! I'm not all the way done with this book yet, as I am currently working on my own novel and trying not to let my kids starve and my house be taken over my spiders, but I really like it, so far. I love that she has blue hair, and I love the rich, layered settings, and the subtle and not-too-in-your-face mythology.

Whew! That was a lot of books. I narrowed my favorites down to 10.
(drum roll, please)

My Fave 10 books of 2011:

Unearthly (kidding! kind of. . . kind of not kidding. . . of course it's going to be one of my favorite books this year. It's MY book. I published a BOOK. A real book with real pages and a real made-up story and everything. There is nothing that rocks so much as that. :P)

ahem, now the other 9 (i.e., the real list):
Before I Fall
The Scorpio Races
 Blood Red Road
The Knife of Never Letting Go
Anna Dressed in Blood
Anna and the French Kiss
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

So tell me, any books I missed? What would you recommend for 2012?