Thursday, January 2, 2014

My Top Picks of 2013*

{Here a string of new posts: Books of 2013, then Goals for Next Year, and My Top Picks of 2013.}

*This is a weird list, because they're not exactly all the BEST books that were published this year or the best books I read. I tried to create a balance based on the limited genres I read and what I truly thought was amazing. Like if it was just the absolute best books I read, Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King would have been on this list, but I figured it's not news that A.S. King is awesome.

1. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (basically 2013 publication)

Coming in December 31, 2012, this book barely missed the cut as a 2013 book, but it's so close, I feel like it counts. If you missed my review way back when, it's here. I reiterate that I found the book profoundly moving, and although terribly sad, a joyous celebration of life nonetheless. I'm a big stickler for interesting premises, and assisted suicide is something I rarely read about, so the tasteful, lovely--if that's an appropriate word here--way it was handled made the book a winner on more than just one level. I don't think it should be marketed as a love story, so much as a story about love. A true gem of a book.

2. Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (2013 publication)

I don't know if I think Code Name Verity or Rose Under Fire was better, but I thought it more appropriate to pick Rose Under Fire here, because it's more recent. The drawback is that the unique narrative device in Code Name Verity doesn't seem to serve any purpose here and it has lost much of its freshness since the last book. But Rose Justice is a compelling character to follow and the accompanying cast of characters and friends in the concentration camp are carefully fleshed-out. Like its predecessor, this book gets difficult to read at time due to the subject matter and graphic descriptions, but I would recommend it to anybody, history lover or not. Elizabeth Wein is a rare gift to the YA genre, and I can't wait to see what she will come up with next.

3. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (2011 publication)

Speaking of what people are coming up with next, Ransom Riggs' sequel to Miss Peregrine's is coming out in just under two weeks! My expectations are high because of this book right here, something I avoided reading for the longest time because the hype was so in-your-face all the time. But as usual, my stubbornness kept me from discovering a great book; Miss Peregrine's was a marvelous blend of history and fantasy, text and visuals. It manages to feel like a classic, in the league of a Alice in Wonderland or something. It reminds me a lot of Un Lun Dun by China Mieville, a book that lingered in my mind for a long time. Escapism at its best.

4. Without Tess by Marcella Pixley (2011 publication)

I've read a good number of books involving mental illness in the past two years, and I can say that this one is hands down my favorite. Pixley knows her way around language better than most people I've read and crafts a haunting story of sisterhood and sacrifice. Interspersed with poems that reinforce the eloquence of the prose, Pixley draws you in for a devastating climax that will be stamped in your nightmares for days, I promise you. I picked this book off the shelf at random from the DC public library, and wow, was it a great decision. I really hope more people read it.

5. The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler (2013 publication)

I had to pick a good YA contemporary for my list, and this one, while a traditional boy-and-girl love story, continues to build my admiration of Ockler as someone who can consistently deliver. While general premise starts out as pretty hokey and West Side Story-esque, it quickly transforms into a story with depth and heart. I think my favorite part is how three-dimensional the characters are, surprising, given how large the cast is. With four sisters, it's easy to make cookie cutter placeholders, but Ockler lets the reader feel that each sister has a different personalities. And the father-daughter relationship between Jude and her Papi is very touching. Toward the end, the story takes a turn that I didn't expect, and it wraps up with a bittersweet conclusion that showcases the potential of well-written YA. Satisfying and a smooth read.

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