Monday, December 30, 2013

Great Books of 2013

Is it just me or has 2013 been an exceptional year for books? Though you would never realize it by my reviews (or lack thereof) I have read a great number of titles in 2013 that I enjoyed enormously - some newly released and some that I have been meaning to get to for quite a while. Today I would like to focus on my favorites published within this past year. There are a ton of these lists out there and I am amazed at how well they match up with each other this year. My list includes many of the same titles as well.

Adult Literary Fiction




Jhumpa Lahiri once again demonstrates her abilities as a skilled storyteller in The Lowland. This novel details the lives of two brothers from India and though touches on the political struggles of the country is much more about family, choices, and love. Magnificently told, this one is easy to get lost in. 









Historical Fiction



Fun and yet very powerful, Kate Atkinson's Life after Life plays with the idea of changing destiny by altering choices. The book follows Ursula Todd from birth through death over and over again as her choices and actions differ and thus alter the destinies not only for Ursula but for those around her in varying degrees. This one is absolutely fascinating.








Is there any better word to describe The Valley of Amazement than amazing? Amy Tan's latest work had me absolutely entranced from the opening pages as the lives of Shanghai courtesans in the 1800's were explored. The characters really come to life within these pages. This one is full of intriguing historical facts and additionally explores mother-daughter relationships.








Fantasy




I did manage to publish a review for Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which you can find here. I found this one to be eerie, magical, and all consuming.










Helene wicker does an impressive job of breathing life into her characters in The Golem and the Jinni. The story line is intriguing but it is really the main characters that make this one hauntingly beautiful.











Emerging Author




Hannah Kent proves to be a great storyteller with her first published novel, Burial Rites. In it she tells the story of Agnes, the last woman executed in Iceland. This is a compassionate portrayal of Agnes interlaced with historical fact. The overall effect is mesmerizing.  








Nonfiction



I am somewhat ashamed to say that I only made it all the way through one nonfiction title published this year. Yet A House in the Sky: A Memoir by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett definitely comes highly recommended. In it Lindhout cover the time she spent as a hostage in Somalia as well as her life leading up to this situation. It is both haunting and inspiring.









Young Adult Fiction




Fangirl is a fun read detailing Cath's transition to adulthood as she enters her first year of college, which coincidences with her first separation from her twin sister. I was easily able to identify with Cath and thus quickly devoured this one. 









Set in New Orleans in the 1950 Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys combines a mystery with a coming-of-age story. Josie is anxious to make a better life for herself but her mother's choices and deceits come back to haunt her.










Young Adult Fantasy




Even if you are entirely over the vampire fad, Holly Black's Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a must-read. The futuristic setting, dark and yet captivating characters combine with loads of action and a touch of romance to make this a horrifying fantastical read. This one can easily be consumed in a single sitting.








Young Adult Sequels



It is not often that I enjoy the sequel more than the first title in a series but this was the case with Veronica Rossi's Through the Ever Night. The first, Under the Never Sky, was a bit difficult to get into but this was not an issue with the second title in the trilogy. The further character development led to a captivating story. I am excited to see where the final book takes us.






I wasn't too sure about the introduction of another lead character in Scarlet, Marissa Meyer's followup to Cinder. But a strong female character like Scarlet is almost impossible not to love. Furthermore her character and situation add greater depth to the story. I am anxiously awaiting the next installment, Cress, which will release in February. Elizabeth's review and Kari's review back this pick as well. 










Anthology



Let me preface this by mentioning  I have only read one published in 2013 so far yet Shards & Ashes edited by Melissa Marr & Kelley Armstrong is certainly good enough to deserve mention. This is a collection of nine dystopian short stories that are sure to entertain. My review will give you greater insight if your interested in this one.









Children's Fiction


There is always something magical about retelling fairy tales and Liesl Shurtliff's Rump is no exception. In this retelling Rumpelstiltskin becomes quite a likable character, though not one without faults. His tale is both sad and humorous. I read this with my 8-year-old daughter and we were both pleased with how well it was done.









Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman is absolutely delightful. In it a dad weaves an elaborate tale as he attempts to explain to his two young children why it took so long to fetch milk from a nearby grocer. Short enough to read aloud in one or two sittings, this one will leave both you and your children in giggles. I'd recommend it for ages 7-10.










Children's Picture Books


Devin Scillian makes the mundane day-to-day life of a hamster exciting in Memoirs of a Hamster. When Seymour decides to escape from his cage things get really lively. The pictures in this one are really fantastic, especially the animal expressions.









Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great and I think this title by Bob Shea is pretty great as well. Goat however is a bit jealous of unicorn and it takes an unlikely friendship to bring him around.









Journey is a wordless picture book that is magnificently done. I am sure you have heard the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, Aaron Becker proves this to be true. To escape boredom a young girl draws a door on her bedroom wall. All kinds of wonderful adventures take place once she steps through this magical portal. 








Currently Reading



The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
I am only about 100 pages into this hefty 750+ page novel but I can already tell with a fair degree of certainty that it is one that should be included in this Best of 2013 list.










Currently Listening To


A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
This one is told from two perspectives - one of a teenage Japanese girl, Nao, and the other of a novelist living in Canada who discovers a letter written by Nao. I am enjoying this one so much that I find myself actually looking forward to home improvement projects that provide listening time.









These promising titles are currently sitting on my shelf waiting to be read. Hope I can get to them all before their due dates:
















Now excuse me as I've got some serious reading (and lots of reviews to type up) to do in the next few weeks!



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