It's the last day of the year, so it's time for my annual wrap-up of what I read this year, along with my top recommendations. So, without further ado:
Red Rising by Pierce Brown. Starting strong this year! I was completely blown out of the water by this novel, although I really shouldn't have been surprised. Pierce audited one of the classes I taught at Pepperdine a few years ago, and he was one of those students I love having in my classes because he always showed up with insightful, intelligent things to say. I was a little trepidatious going into reading this, however, because of the way they marketed the book--"Ender, Katniss, and now Darrow," was a tag line, and they had a tendency to treat Pierce more like a piece of meat than a writer--more was said about how good-looking Pierce is than the kind of writing he does. Which makes me uncomfortable on many levels because he was my student and I feel very maternal toward my students, so EW. But, all that aside, THIS IS AN AMAZING BOOK. The world is so detailed and fresh and evocative. The characters are alive in your head and they just break your heart. I was completely lost in the story, and it is still with me, even a year later. RED RISING totally lives up to the hype, and I am on pins and needles waiting for the sequel this January.
2. Cress, by Marissa Meyer. I have loved all of the books in this series, and this was one was no exception. Cress is now maybe my favorite heroine of the three so far, and Captain Thorne. . . sigh. I can't wait for the next one.
3. Into The Still Blue by Veronica Rossi. Okay, so I'm biased when it comes to this book, since I know Veronica and I adore her as a person. But this was a wonderful conclusion to the series. It felt like I was holding my breath for the last 50 pages, and I was so happy with the way it ended. Yay, Veronica. But now I am sad, because I know I will have to wait for a long while before her next book. Which is going to be AWESOME, trust me.
4. Midnight Pearls by Debbie Viguie. I had an idea for a retelling of "The Little Mermaid" this year, so I started to read a few books on the subject to see if it had already been done. Which. . . it hadn't, although this book was a nice take on it. I especially liked the relationship between this little mermaid and this prince.
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. I am a huge Rainbow Rowell fan, but this one might be my absolute favorite of hers. I read this on a plane, and I'm sure the other passengers thought it was odd that I was crying and smiling at the same time when I got to the end. The ending was so good. I found myself going back and rereading the ending several times that week, and it always made my chest swell with emotion. It was also a book that made me laugh out loud several times. So good!
6. Enders by Lissa Price. I didn't get wrapped up in this one quite as much as the first one, but I still liked the way it ended.
7. Uninvited by Sophie Jordan. Really good. Neat premise.
8. Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. I am a huge Oz fan--read every single Oz book that was ever printed when I was kid, like 40 of them, so I had high expectations of this book. I did like the idea of Dorothy being the real villain. But the ending left me empty. It was one of those where I felt like it ended right about the same time that it really got going.
9. Great by Sarah Benincasa. I was a bit scared to read this one, truthfully. I got my literature Ph.D. specializing in Hemingway and his contemporaries, and there are few books I know and love better than The Great Gatsby. Big shoes to fill. But I feel like Ms. Benincasa did a great job with the shoe-filling. It was engaging and heart-breaking. I felt a little muddled about the ending, but that was definitely a case of my own personal issues changing the way I react to a story. Great book, pun intended.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge. Gosh, I adored this book. It's a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that left me breathless. The book was so passionate, from the beautiful cover to the painterly, sense-heightened writing to the incredibly flawed and intense characters. I devoured this one and am eagerly waiting for the next installment.
11. Fathomless by Jackson Pearce. Another Little Mermaid retelling. I dug it. Ms. Pearce is always good, I think.
12. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I hadn't read any of Neil Gaiman's adult work, so when a friend recommended this to me, I got right on it. It was amazing. I keep hearing whisperings of a TV show based on this, which is so exciting. The world-building is fantastic (duh, it's Neil Gaiman, duh) but it's really the main character who continued to haunt me long after I was done reading.
13. Ignite Me, by Tahereh Mafi. Okay, so, I'm biased. I will readily admit that. I have a lot of friends who finished up their series this year, and I read them all and liked them all. But I can honestly say that even if I didn't know Tahereh, I would have LOVED this book. It had such amazing build up, and the writing was gorgeous, as usual, but it was really the passion of this book that blew me away. And I don't mean the hubba hubba type passion, of which there is plenty of in this book, too, but the FEELING behind the words. Oh so many feels. Loved it.
14. The Elementals, by Saundra Mitchell. I am a big Saundra Mitchell fan, and I liked this book so much, and the way it subtly tied the other two books together. I think my favorite of this series is still The Springsweet, but this was a great read, too.
15. Perfect Lies by Kiersten White. Really good. I love the dichotomy of these two characters.
16. Alienated by Melissa Landers. You can't really beat a hot alien boyfriend. Thumbs up.
17. Side Effects May Vary by Julia Murphy. The loved that this MC was ANGRY and she acted on her anger, and those actions had real consequences. I wish more YA fiction had the guts for that.
This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready. A fascinating look at a teen boy living in an uber religious family who believe in (and then participate in) the Rapture. I liked it better than Left Behind, but there was definitely the same kind of uh-oh moment. And I am in love with this cover.
19. Infinite by Jodi Meadows. Okay, really really ridiculously biased. But this was an intense and super awesome conclusion to her Incarnate series. And I have to remember that I loved Jodi's writing before I ever met Jodi. Also, I will add that no one else I know incorporates the use of music quite so beautifully into their writing. The characters are musicians, and they have such an awareness of music throughout. I loved how music was how they found each other. xoxo
20. Evertrue by Brodi Ashton. Continuing with the biased opinions. . . Brodi may have spoiled this book for me by telling me, almost line for line, a heartbreaking scene from the very ending almost a year before the book came out. But when I got to the actual scene when reading the book, I still cried. It was the perfect combination of funny and sad. And I could read Brodi's quirky, hilarious voice all day. xoxo
See Me by Wendy Higgins. As far as paranormal romances went this year, this was by far my fave. It's about a pre-arranged marriage and hot leprechauns. No joke. But the relationship was one of the best slow-builds I've ever read, also no joke. I loved it.
22. Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira. This was good, a complex story about a girl who loses her sister, and doesn't want to really admit to herself what really happened. It reminded me, in a good way, of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak. I also thought it was a wonderful, creative use of all the historical and literary sources that Dellaira utilizes to tell the story. I can see why there was so much buzz.
23. Don't Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon. A good, solid thriller.
24. To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han. Great premise, which I thought was so well executed. Each boy brought something so different to her life, and I liked the idea of this girl writing a letter to these boys as a way to take control of what she feels. Nice.
25. Hatchet by Gary Paulson. I will never look at hatchets the same way again. I loved this simple, short novel for the middle-grade crowd about a boy who has to unexpectedly survive in the wilderness after a plane crash with only the help of . . . you guessed it, a hatchet.
26. Born of Illusion by Teri Brown. I liked this. You have figured out by now that I'm not terribly hard to please with books, but really, this one, about the (supposedly) illegitimate daughter of Harry Houdini, really caught me in its world. Also I really liked the character dynamics here, especially the prickly one between the mother and the daughter.
27. The Inventor's Secret by Andrea Cremer. Steampunk goodness! This actually may be my favorite book by Andrea Cremer so far. Wonderful, thoughtful world building. I was distressed when the book ended before the major conflict of the story was completely resolved, but that's reading a series, I guess. I'm eager to get my grabby hands on the next one.
Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White. This. book. I heart this book so much it hurt to finish it. The main character was smart and resourceful and amazing and funny and totally memorable. The world building was perfect--I could see the ways it was England but also the ways it was different. I swooned over the swoony guy. I cried a couple of times. I booed the villain. I was so obsessed by the time I finished this novel. This, in my opinion, is Kiersten's best work to date, and I loved the Paranormalcy series so much I blurbed her third book, so I don't say that lightly. Loved loved loved.
29. September Girls by Bennett Madison. Another mermaid read, and this one was fascinating.
30. The Taking by Kimberly Derting. Alien abduction! I grew up under a very big, very empty sky, so aliens were my big fear. This book chilled me in all the right ways. I also really loved that, under all the menacing questions about where this girl disappeared to, it was really a book about what it is to grow up and move on (or have the people around you grow up and move on while you don't, and then you must learn to). One of my year's faves.
31. The Princess And the Hound by Mette Ivie Harrison. I love MIH and I predictably loved this book, which had a very detailed, Robin-McKinley-fairytale feel for me. It was a full, all-encompassing story that is so satisfying as a stand-alone and feels truly epic in proportion.
32. Defy by Sara B. Larson. Good love triangle in this one.
33. The One by Kiera Cass. So great to see how this story ended, and I think the right team won the hand of the fair maiden. It felt like a novel about growing up, in that way, and putting aside childish things for real, adult concerns.
34. Forever by Judy Bloom. I had read this ages ago, but I thought I would reread it this year. What I continue to appreciate about this novel, and Bloom in general, is the characters and their dialogue and the situations they find themselves in feel so completely real and relatable.
Under The Skin by Michel Faber. Okay, so this is adult literary/sortof science fiction / whatisthis? I read it because I wanted to read it before I saw the film, and I was so glad I did. The book stuck with me in a deeply haunting way that the movie definitely didn't. It made me ask all the tough questions about what being human truly means and what being a woman truly means and what makes us ourselves. I also loved the details in the book that they couldn't and didn't even try to accomplish in the movie, how the main character has been surgically altered to look like a human woman and how that ostracizes her from the other members of her alien race. My mind is still grappling with it.
36. Conversion by Katherine Howe. A modern-day Salem witch hysteria, which was so cool. And based on a true story.
37. Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma. This book was a literary novel that got squeezed over into YA, I think, with a small supernatural twist, and as such I really enjoyed it. It is all about the complex characters and their relationships and evocative, beautiful language, which is entirely my cup of tea.
38. The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey. I had a hard time finishing this book, which was so odd because I was completely hooked in the first one. It was just harder to connect with the characters this time, for some odd reason, maybe because my heart was still with the two main characters from the last one and they got significantly less page time and attention this time. Hmm.
39. Fire and Flood by Victoria Scott. I get a kick out of Victoria, both her books and her real-life self, and I enjoyed this book so much. Waiting eagerly for the second book to find out how it will all work out. If you like The Hunger Games, you'll like this one.
40. The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson. I have loved Mary E. Pearson since The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which I adored, and I really liked it, and boy did it ever have a twist I didn't see coming, but it ended on the worst cliffhanger, so I don't really feel like I've finished this book yet. Will have to wait until the next one before I can give it five stars.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This is an adult literary novel, and it was a finalist for the National Book Award this year for a very good reason. I have always really enjoyed post-apocalyptic novels, but this one may be the best, in my regard. It's about the end of the world as we know it, yes, but it is about connections and art and the way human beings find hope. It is the most hopeful post-apocalyptic novel I've ever read. I know it will stay with me, one of those books that will feel like a memory, part of my own experience, and that is a rare and beautiful thing.
42. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I read this in preparation to watch the TV series, which Jodi Meadows and Brodi Ashton and I decided we were going to watch together for our Girls Night In times. I was glad I read the book first. It is, sexy parts and all, a great book--the characters are mesmerizing and the premise (WWI nurse accidentally gets transported via magical Stonehenge-like stone circle to Scotland in the 1700s) is so satisfying. And okay, the TV show is soooooooooooo good. Swoon swoon swoon over Jamie and his kilt.
43. The Jewel by Amy Ewing. This book had guts. It's about a world where poor girls train to be magic wielding surrogate mothers for the rich and powerful. Really good.
44. Panic by Lauren Oliver. My favorite LO is still Before I Fall, but this was a good one. I don't think Lauren Oliver is capable of writing anything but good ones.
45. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. I enjoyed this novel, about a girl struggling to escape her stifling life in New Orleans. I liked it even better than Between Shades of Gray.
46. Thorn by Intisar Khanani. Loooooooooooved this one. It's such a rich, powerful, and engrossing retelling of "The Goose Girl." This had all the feels for me. I felt the same way I did reading a Hans Christian Anderson story when I was a little girl, like the world outside my door was a magical but dark, thrilling, terrifying, and romantic place. One of the best, most straight-forward retellings I've ever read.
The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas. Okay, so here's two books in a row that I absolutely loved. This was the best debut fantasy this year for me. I relished pretty much every minute--there was so much emotion and magic and strategy at work here. It had the boarding school fun of something like a cross between Harry Potter and Looking For Alaska, the prophecy that hangs over the main characters' heads like a dark cloud, the fated-but-doomed romance element, the dressing like a boy to hide stuff, which was awesome, the magic and magic training and a magic book that they can go inside to play out different scenarios or speak with ancient wizards of the past, the slightly steam-punky London element---GAH, THIS BOOK. So awesome. Read it now now now.
48. The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas. Because of course I had to immediately read the sequel the second it came out (I read the first one like 2 weeks before the sequel came out, fortunately for me). This was an awesome book also, but it didn't quite transport me as deeply as the first did. But it was still so amazing.
49. Blackbird by Anna Carey. Okay, biased opinion here, since Anna is my friend and I'm sure I'd find her grocery lists good reading, but this book was like a textbook example of how to convincingly write a story in second person. Yep. Second person. Which is disorienting at first, because we don't often hear stories that way, but once you settle in, it is so good. The kind of book that will keep you guessing. And by you I mean you.
50. Get Even by Gretchen McNeil. Gretchen just brings it every time. I laughed out loud a few times reading this book, and wished there was more to read when it ended. Grrr. I hate having to wait for the next one. I love how Gretchen is able to be simultaneously playful with her storytelling and intensely thrilling at the same time.
51. Heart-Shaped Box. An adult horror novel about a washed-out rock star who on a whim buys an old suit that the seller claims carries a ghost with it, and then receives it in a heart-shaped box, and it turns out to be way more than he bargained for. I haven't been this creeped out by a novel since I was a teen reading Stephen King. *shudders*
52. Trial By Fire by Josephine Angelini. Josie told me about this story a couple of years ago, and I've been dying to read it ever since--it's about an alternate reality that is loosely based on The Crucible. It's hard to explain, but it's a great read.
53. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. I had the good fortune this year to attend a screening of the movie that Peter S. Beagle himself attended, and it was such fun, and I had him sign a copy of the book and brought it home and read it that same night. It still had the magic I found there when I was ten years old. Brilliant story.
54. Atlantia by Ally Condie. I got very swept up in this one. The underwater world and the main character's plans to escape it was so engrossing. I liked it as much as I liked Matched, which is a lot.
55. The White Princess by Philippa Gregory. I read this because I had watched the White Queen TV series, and really liked it, and wanted to know what happened next. Then I was pleased to get to know a character in this book who also makes an appearance in My Lady Jane. Sweet. For the record, though, my favorite Gregory book is still The Other Boleyn Girl, which is so much much better than the movie.
The Cure For Dreaming by Cat Winters. I loved the cover of this one, so I picked it up, and I was so glad I did. It's an amazing historical novel set in Oregon during the women's rights movement. But it's also romantic and funny and a bit magical. Yay!
57. In The Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters. I liked The Cure For Dreaming so much I went off immediately to find this one, which I also liked.
58. Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis. I really liked this one--a sci fi retelling of Snow White that felt a lot like Marissa Meyers, in a good way, mostly. It was inventive--the seven dwarves are seven robots that the main character builds, and the term stitching applies to how she programs computers. The love interest was swoon-worthy and the tension was there, and I also have to applaud Lewis for confronting an unexpected issue with the father. If you liked Cinder, you'll like this one.
59. Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers. I love Robin LaFevers. I met her at an event a few years ago, back when Unearthly was new, and I was sort of new as an author, and Robin struck me as the coolest, calmest, wisest veteran writer ever. I loved Grave Mercy, and my son has LOVED her Nathaniel Fludd series. So this year it suddenly struck me that I hadn't read the other two books in the series yet. So I read this one, number two, which knocked me out because it was even better than the first one.
Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers. And then I got to this one, which is even BETTER than the first two. The twist in this one KILLED ME. After I finished I had to go lie down for a while and stare off into space thoughtfully and ponder how it is not at all fair that Robin LaFevers can write such great middle grade AND young adult and I'm sure whatever the heck else she wants to. #writerjealousy #sigh
61. Jackaby by William Ritter. I felt like I was watching the YA cross between Sherlock and Supernatural with this one. And that's a wonderful thing.
62. The Fall by Bethany Griffin. Two very dark books in a row here after reading Jackaby. This one has great language and a sense of claustrophobia that is truly uncomfortable at times. Great read.
63. Landline by Rainbow Rowell. Attachments is still my favorite, but this one, the other adult novel as opposed to her YA, was so darned good. I love Rainbow Rowell characters. I wanted to be Georgie McCool's friend, I liked her so much. That's Ms. Rowell's genius--the way her characters slowly draw you in until you feel like you know them so well, and then you care so deeply about what's going to happen to them and you want them so badly to get what their hearts desire. #morewriterlyjealousy #butinagoodway
The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope by Rhonda Riley. I can't remember exactly when I read this--in airports, going to some event this year, and then on the way home someone asked me about it, and I ended up giving them the book. This story has stayed with me, but it's a hard one to explain, plot-wise. It's about a young woman who finds a burned man on her property during a storm one night, but he ends up not really being a man, but someone from another place, another planet, perhaps. It's an adult book and it's very literary (read: character-driven and language based) and it is unconventional and strange, but I think in a good way. What I liked about it was the way that relationships work--how love changes and grows. The whole thing felt like an extended metaphor for how we love--at first love is like a reflection of ourselves, but then it changes according to what the other person needs. Anyway. I'd recommend it to adults.
So that's it: 64 books! What stuck out to me as I put together this list this year was how many books I loved this year--more than usual, I think. There weren't any instances that I was tempted to write about how much I didn't like a novel. Maybe this is because I had less patience this year, and if I didn't like a novel past the first few chapters, I stopped reading. In any case, it was a good year for books.
Here's my top 6 choices for 2014: (because I could not narrow it down to 5!)
The His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers. Read this if you are looking for a good series, because this is one of the best out there. Killer assassin nuns in 14th century France, is all I'm saying. So. Good. Even better taken as a whole, so I'm going to lump them together.
Red Rising by Pierce Brown. Read this if you want to read a great book--it's that simple. This is a great book. I always tell the people to whom I recommend this book to stick with it through the transition. The beginning is so tense and heartbreaking and vivid, and then there's a little transition period, and then it picks up again being tense and awesome and vivid. The transition period is a necessary setup, so stick with it. This is a GREAT BOOK.
The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas. Read this if you like fantasy--this one has it all. Maybe my favorite reading experience all year.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Windel. Read if you like thinking about how fragile our little world is, or what it would be like to go through a collapse of life as we know it, or if you just love beautifully written, thought-provoking novels.
Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White. Read this one for the main character, really. She's a show stopper. There's also a book that becomes a bird that I LOVED.
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. Read if you need a romantic comedy that will hit all the right notes.
Stay tuned later in the next week or two to vote on what I should read next (I have a TBR pile a mile high, people, and I need your help) and to see the list of the books I read to my seven-year-old son this year, and get my top 5 children's book of 2014.
Now I'm going to go rest my tired eyes. . .